BALTIMORE, Maryland (WJZ) — Sometimes, in this business, we meet someone we just simply can’t forget.
Jessie Hall is one of those someones. A dozen years ago, 6-year old little Jessie traveled from West Texas to Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Hospital for a life-changing, life-saving surgery.
WJZ was there as Dr. Ben Carson removed the entire right side of Jessie’s brain. The surgery was a success. Twelve years later we decided to congratulate Jessie as she graduates high school and heads to college.
When we reached Jessie by Zoom, the joy she’s getting from life was evident by the smile she shared with us.
When Jessie was six she was in every way a normal child except she had begun having seizures, multiple seizures every day.
Her parents learned she had a disease on the right side of her brain called Rasmussen’s Encephalitis. If left untreated, it would spread to the left side of her brain and eventually kill her.
Jessie remembers the seizures: “I remember lots of, like staring into space, eye twitching and just being in another dimension really and not knowing what was happening.”
So, her parents made the difficult decision to come to Baltimore and to Johns Hopkins and meet with world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.
Dr. Carson pioneered curing Rasmussen’s by performing a hemispherectomy — literally removing half of a patient’s brain.
The first time Jessie and her parents met Dr. Carson she turned right to him and asked, “Are you going to take half my brain out?”
He responded, “Do you want me to?”
And she shook her head, yes.
Everyone laughed at her spunk and naïve enthusiasm.
But today, as Jessie remembers asking that question she says, “I kind of cringe at all the things I said. I was, oh, I was very outgoing.”
And so she was. Jessie remembers getting her head shaved, she remembers all the people in the hospital room and her parents worry as they gave her a final goodbye before the seven-hour surgery.
Our cameras were rolling in the quiet, intense operating room as surgeons carefully removed her right brain. Portions were sent to the lab where Rasmussen’s was confirmed.
When Jessie awoke she had weeks of recovery, therapy and rehab before she could head home to Texas.
“I remember just being. I wanted to go home. I didn’t really understand why I was there like — I just didn’t want to be any part of therapy or anything because it was painful,” she said.
While in Baltimore, Jessie’s parents Cris and Kristi created the Hemispherectomy Foundation.
In the years since, they have helped hundreds of families around the world who are facing the same challenges they faced with this radical surgery. They have helped with research, scholarships, travel funds and much more. There is now a successful network supporting the many children who undergo this procedure.
After the surgery, Dr. Carson explained the skull immediately fills with fluid in the space where the right brain used to occupy. Then eventually, with time and rehabilitation, in children the left brain will take over the duties of the right.
Jessie is left with some weakness on her left side, her left arm and left peripheral vision. But, she’s adapted.
“It’s pretty much normal to me now,” Jessie said. “So like when I’m in the classroom, I sit on the left side of the room so I can see the teacher a little better.
“I pretty much do anything I put my mind to now,” she added.
Set to graduate high school this week, Jessie is headed to college where she will major in ‘child life studies’.
She learned about this field while at Hopkins. Child life specialists help calm, sooth and entertain nervous children in the hospital setting.
“Hopkins had an amazing child life department and I guess it made, I guess it made an impact on her because that’s what she wants to do,” Her dad, Cris, said
All these years later, Jessie sees how she’s come full circle. She also understands how difficult it was for her parents to agree to such a radical surgery so many years ago.
“I’m grateful that my parents made that decision because they wanted me to have the best life that I could after that,” she said.
It seems very clear, that’s exactly what she will have.
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