August of 2012, 9-month-old Sutton Hazelwood attentively watched his mother, Jamie, as she fed him and patted his back. He cooed as he sat up, quietly blowing bubbles.
Then as now, Sutton appeared like a typical baby, except for the faint scar on his head spanning the top of his forehead to the top of his left ear. The scar tells the story of Sutton's battle with cortical dysplasia.
Cortical dysplasia, a brain disorder, is caused by the abnormally early development of neurons in the brains cortex. This results in neurological symptoms that become apparent early in life and is the leading cause of epilepsy in young children.
A Mother's Intuition
When Sutton was 20 weeks old, Jamie noticed he was making odd movements.
I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I play with him all day, she says. I think that's the reason I noticed, because in the beginning it was very subtle. One day his head just dropped, as if his neck muscles had given out.
When it happened again Jamie grew concerned. She called the family's pediatrician. However, it didn't occur during an examination and the doctor didn't notice anything wrong, so they went home.
Jamie couldn't shake the feeling something was wrong. When Sutton was 6 months old he began sitting up but couldn't stay upright without assistance. Then he began shrugging. Jamie recorded the movements with a cellphone camera and showed them to the pediatrician, who referred them to AdventHealth for Children.
During an EEG [electroencephalogram, a test that measures the brains activity, Sutton's head dropped again, says Jamie. Tests revealed seizures on the left side of his brain and I just lost it.
Jamie and her husband, Brian, listened to Ki Hyeong Lee, MD, pediatric epileptologist, as he explained that their son had cortical dysplasia, and surgery was their only option. Dr. Lee explained that the seizures ruled intractable and not likely to respond to medicine could be extremely detrimental to Sutton's development.
Treating cortical dysplasia means controlling seizures, and treatments vary with each patient, says Dr. Lee. Medications may be successful for some, while surgery to remove the abnormal portion of the brain may be most effective for others with unmanageable seizures.
I looked at Dr. Lee and thought he was kidding, remembers Jamie. Sutton was 6 months old and he was talking about brain surgery? We discussed the effects of surgery and the life Sutton would have afterward. Dr. Lee said he would be cured. I think my husband and I stopped breathing.
Dr. Lee explained that surgery was the best chance to successfully eliminate Sutton's seizures and the best hope for a normal and healthy development.
Jamie and her husband prayed about their choice and ultimately agreed to the surgery. We were very comfortable with the physician's decision, says Jamie.
Next they met James Baumgartner, MD, pediatric epilepsy neurosurgeon, who performed Sutton's hemispherectomy.
During the procedure, half of the brain, the bad side, is removed or disconnected, before it affects the good side, says Dr. Baumgartner. Most often, this is considered only for patients with severe seizures coming from one side of the brain. It's one of the most effective surgeries for epilepsy.
Sutton underwent surgery on May 25 and a second procedure five days later. Dr. Baumgartner and his team removed the temporal lobe and motor strip from the frontal lobe of Sutton's brain. They also performed a callosotomy, disconnecting the membrane that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres, preventing the two sides of the brain from communicating and thereby eliminating further epileptic activity.
Sutton and his parents went home in early June and began physical therapy a week later. He has been seizure-free since surgery. Before, Sutton experienced as many as 100 seizures daily.
I'm so glad we met Drs. Lee and Baumgartner, exclaims Jamie. They were very clear about the risks and rewards of surgery, and they were right.
Jamie and Brian knew one of the risks was right side paralysis, but with physical therapy, feeling could gradually return. After surgery, though, little Sutton was able to move the right side of his body.
He gripped our hands we called it the miracle grip. He held us so tightly with his right side, says Jamie tearfully. And now his right leg you wouldn't even know. His right leg does great and his right arms coming back.
It was hard, but were so glad we did it. Before, Sutton couldn't sit up and now he's doing it on his own, unassisted, beams Jamie. He's laughing, he's babbling and he's a happy baby.
The Power of Prayer
Jamie and Brian prayed constantly and asked everyone to join them, including family, friends and co-workers. Even his medical team stopped to pray with the family.
I think God allowed me to open up and understand decisions we had to make. I had this overwhelming feeling Sutton was going to be OK. I would open a prayer book randomly, recalls Jamie, and Id always turn to a particular page where it kept saying submit, and I felt like it was God telling me put this at His feet and He was going take it. And He did.
People told us they didn't know how we did it, says Jamie. I always tell people if you don't believe in modern-day miracles, listen to our story.
Story originally posted: March 1, 2013