After a cheerleading accident, a Fort Collins high school student started having 30 seizures a day.
Whitney Henry and her parents were faced with a difficult choice: try to manage the debilitating symptoms or have surgery to remove a golf-ball-sized part of her brain.
At 15 years old, Whitney Henry was a happy, healthy high school student.
"It was during cheer practice in July. We were just practicing on our routine when her head fell into my face," she said.
She said the cheerleading accident changed everything.
"I started having these weird deja vu feelings in the middle of school," she said. "They happened more and more often -- 30 to 50 times a day. I felt like a crazy person."
Eventually, she became paralyzed during these episodes and paranoid after them.
"I would think that someone was in the house or someone was following me. And I would see people even though they weren't there. I couldn't be left alone," she said.
Her mother, Tanya Henry, said they had to manage their lives based on Whitney's limitations.
"She would seize non-stop. She would start seizing at a restaurant, at the airport. She seized everywhere," said Tanya.
Her parents tried one neurologist and one medication after the next, but nothing stopped the seizures.
"It was heartbreaking," said Whitney's father, Russ. "In terms of her ability to do, to think, to be herself, to see this bright star just stifled."
Finally, after a year and a half with few answers, the epilepsy team at the Children's Hospital took Whitney's case. She went through four, week-long studies.
Pediatric neurosurgeon Michael Handler said the studies suggested one solution: brain surgery.
"This is not a step we take lightly," said Handler. "It's a step that's hard for some doctors to accept and some patients to accept."
But Handler said he's done the same operation about 100 times.
The risks include personality change, loss of vision and loss of memory.
"I had already lost a part of my memory from my seizures," said Whitney. "I've lost a chunk of junior high. But who doesn't want to lose junior high?"
For her and her parents, though, the deciding factor was the medical evidence that her seizures would be debilitating over time.
"It's hard to know which was more terrifying -- the seizures or the surgery," said Tanya.
Doctors removed a golf-ball sized portion of Whitney's temporal lobe deep inside her brain.
Her last seizure was the morning before her surgery. She said she had no vision or memory loss as a result of the surgery. In fact, tests showed her IQ actually increased.
"I really think that part of my brain was just holding me back," Whitney joked.
Two years after the surgery, nothing can hold her back.
She's a senior at the University of Northern Colorado. She wants to get her Ph.D. in psychology and counsel kids at The Children's Hospital who are going through the kind of trauma she did.
"I'm a normal kid now. I can drive. I can hang out with my friends," she said.
And she's once again a cheerleader of sorts for the doctors who cured her.
"They definitely gave me my life back. I'm thankful for it, honestly. It's made me who I am today. I don't think I'd be the person I am without it," she said.
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