How removing half of someone's brain can improve their life

Dr. Howard Weiner, a pediatric neurosurgeon and professor of neurological surgery and pediatrics at the NYU Langone Medical Center and NYU School of Medicine, has been performing these types of surgeries on children for decades—including on Elena. He explained to mental_floss­ that when it comes to cases like hers, the normal part of the brain is impaired when it is bombarded by overly active impulses sent over from the damaged side. These children can suffer cognitive developmental impairment, partial paralysis, behavioral issues, social isolation, and a laundry list of other problems. Once that transmission is cut, the unharmed hemisphere can start functioning without all of that charged disruption.

Soon after, Weiner performed a left-sided hemispherectomy on Elena, removing the left half of her brain. Recovery after a hemispherectomy is very positive. With aggressive occupational therapy and physical therapy, children can usually lead normal, productive lives. Elena recalls to mental_floss, “Things suddenly got easy. I became smart. I made friends. I became social. I just need a little extra help.”

Her parents capitalized on her go-getter attitude and inner motivation. She attended special programs for children with disabilities and then attended Darrow School, a co-ed boarding school in New York, where her talents were fostered. Over the years, she excelled.