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Surgery fixes 9-year-old boy's stroke

December 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
It happens to almost 800,000 people a year, but you rarely hear about children as stroke victims. Twenty-five percent of cases happen in young patients. Meet a 9-year-old boy who suddenly lost the ability to move or even speak. Innovative surgery saved his life.With nine kids, Melanie and Orlando Brown thought they were prepared for just about anything. Then last May, something happened to 9-year-old Marlan.

"Actually, my brain got hurt," said Marlan. "I couldn't talk or anything. I couldn't walk."

"You could tell he was scared, frightened. I would be too," said Orlando Brown. "You know you have this normal day one day, all of a sudden, and then it's like you can't use your arm, you can hardly speak you can't even communicate."

At the hospital, an unbelievable diagnosis: Marlan had suffered a stroke.

"I was stunned," said Marlan's mother, Melanie.

"Nine-year-old having a stroke, it's like, never heard of it in my life," said Orlando.

Imaging revealed narrowed cerebral arteries in both sides of Marlan's brain. It's a syndrome called Moya Moya, Japanese for "puffs of smoke," a phrase used to describe abnormal clusters of tiny vessels that develop in the brain.

"The part of the brain that was affected in Marlan was the frontal lobe, and that controls movement and speech," said Dr. Philipp Aldana, pediatric neurosurgeon at Wolfson Children's Hospital.

Surgeons performed a complex procedure called anastamosis. Using an artery from another part of the brain, they created a direct bypass around the narrowed artery to restore healthy blood flow and prevent another stroke.

"I do believe in miracles, I do," said Orlando. "My son is living proof."

Now Marlan's back to doing what he likes best, working with his hands, creating little people out of clay. Now, for this little man the only limit is his imagination.

Surgery is the only cure for the type of stroke Marlan suffered, and it's usually a permanent fix. With post-surgical therapy, patients often can regain lost function, as Marlan did. Doctors aren't sure what causes strokes like the one Marlan had, but radiation therapy to the brain can increase the risk.