Last year, Sariah Moreno’s parents got a call from Valley Children’s Hospital that they describe as both terrifying and exciting.
Their 13-year-old daughter was to undergo a hemispherotomy, in which surgeons would disconnect the right side of her brain, hopefully curing her of the seizures she had been having her whole life.
Like all surgeries, hers came with risks. But Sariah’s parents knew their daughter needed the procedure. Her seizures were becoming more aggressive as she got older, and medication just wasn’t working anymore.
“She had sometimes up to two a day, sometimes five, six a week,” her dad, Albert Moreno, said. “She couldn’t really recover from the first one, then the next one would hit.”
During the six-hour procedure on Nov. 2, 2018, two neurosurgeons completely disconnected the right side of Sariah’s brain from the left side.
Sariah was born with Sturge-Weber syndrome, a condition that affects blood vessels and can cause underdevelopment of the brain. Her parents estimate she has been having seizures since she was 5 months old.
Three and a half months after the successful surgery, the spunky teen sat with her parents in their Fresno home, seizure-free for the first time.
And despite not using one side of her brain — or in fact, because of it — she is now thriving.
“Sariah is not held back anymore,” her mom, Barbi Moreno, said. She hopes her daughter can now focus on being a normal teen.
Because of neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to transfer certain functions to different areas of the brain — Sariah did not lose any ability after the surgery.
Dr. Patricia Clerkin, one of Sariah’s neurosurgeons, explained that because the right side of Sariah’s brain had not developed normally since she was born, “the other side of the brain essentially took over function.”
Her parents say she remains as wild and funny as ever.
“She’s a happy child,” her dad said. “She wakes up laughing and then goes to bed laughing.”
The youngest of eight siblings, she loves YouTube and wants to be a firefighter when she grows up.
Sariah calls the doctors who worked on her amazing. “They took the seizures away,” she said.
Clerkin believes Valley Children’s Hospital can take even more seizures away. The first step is making people aware that the hospital has the technology and doctors to help.
She estimates that there are about 12,000 children with epilepsy in the Central Valley, and one-third of those cases are not controllable with medication. Only 1 percent of those children with uncontrolled seizures will be helped with surgical procedures at Valley Children’s Hospital.
That amounts to about 40 kids a year. Clerkin said surgical procedures like Sariah’s are underutilized.
“This kind of surgery that we can provide can really cure kids,” she said.
The Morenos say their daughter has been able to blossom because of the surgery, and is able to express her emotions better. They’ve seen her vocabulary grow.
Barbi Moreno said she feels like crying every time she sees the doctors. “They gave me something that we never thought we’d have.”
She is looking forward to going on more family trips now that Sariah can be more spontaneous.
“It changed us,” she said. “We knew Sariah was just always going to have seizures and this was just going to be our life. Now after, it’s a whole new world.”