ATLANTA - It was a true medical mystery. At 4, Ella Hall, a seemingly healthy Covington preschooler, suddenly developed seizures that just wouldn't stop. It would take months, and repeated brain surgeries to finally silence the Georgia girls seizures.
Today, Ella Hall is back to being herself, with the fearlessness of a 5-year old.
"It's amazing, absolutely amazing what we've come through," said her mother Chrissy Hall.
The Halls have had a crash course in what can go wrong with the brain, and how far doctors will go to make it right. Their story began quietly the evening of December 28th, 2014, as Chrissy and Kyle were giving Ella a bath.
Chrissy remembered, "She kind of just sat down, and she kind of shook a little bit and her eyes were fixed."
Kyle Hall wasn't sure what was happening, but said he had a bad feeling. He said, "It didn't look normal. I was like, 'Ella, what's going on? Ella! Ella!' And she never responded back to me for about 10 to 15 seconds."
Then, just as quickly, Ella snapped out of it. So, they kept a close eye of her overnight.
"The next morning we got up, sent her to school, because she was perfectly fine. Got up, got the call from her daycare. She'd had one getting ready to eat lunch," claimed Chrissy.
Mom and daugher were rushed by ambulance to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. She had three seizures on the way to the hospital. And they kept coming, one after another. Soon, she was having up to 40 to 50 seizures a day.
"I remember just going home and laying on the floor and just crying," said Chrissy sadly. "Because I knew our lives were never going to be the same."
In Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's pediatric ICU, with Ella heavily medicated, the seizures continued. The drugs used to treat children with epilepsy didn't work for Ella. So, Children's neurologist Dr. Daniel Tarquinio and his team started tracking the electrical activity in Ella's brain. That's when they found it: a marble-sized, oblong area, tucked dangerously close to her motor cortex, the area of Ella's brain that controls her ability to move one side of her body. Stopping the seizures would require brain surgery.
The mother said they were desperate, "This had been going on for three weeks. Medication was not working. We said, please, do it."
So, Ella underwent her first brain surgery. Showing MRI images of Ella's brain, Dr. Tarquinio claimed, "The skull was taken off here, this small area was taken out."
The first surgery, was tricky, the abnormal area triggering the seizures was hard to access. After the operation, "She went 20 hours without a seizures, and then they started back," claimed Chrissy.
So, they tried again. Another brain surgery. And, again, the seizures eventually came back. The Halls were devastated.
So, the Children's team tried one more time -- with a minimally invasive laser surgery never before tried at the hospital. Dr. Tarquinio convinced Children's to invest in the equipment needed to perform the surgery. It's known as an an MRI-guided thermal ablation.
With Ella under anesthesia, her head was placed inside an MRI machine. The images produced by the machine's giant magnet helped guide the team, as they drilled a small hole in her skull, then inserted a catheter down to the abnormal area. Then, they used the laser to burn away the remaining abnormal tissue.
And just like that, Ella's seizures stopped. It's been almost four months since her last surgery. She hasn't had a single seizure. Chrissy said, "I mean, we've got our child back."
And for the Halls, life is sweet again. Kyle said, "It's amazing to see her today, to see her running around being herself. It's amazing."