Doctors disconnect half of SoCal 6-year-old's brain in life-changing surgery

Brianna Bodley has a rare brain disease, and according to doctors, disconnecting her brain is enough to stop it.

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, October 7, 2023
Doctors disconnect half of SoCal girl's brain in life-changing surgery
Brianna Bodley of San Bernardino has a rare brain disease, and according to doctors, disconnecting her brain is enough to stop it.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- When a doctor asked 6-year-old Brianna Bodley of San Bernardino about her headache, she tried not to move when she answered.

"Tell him where your head hurts," the girl's mother told her while gently holding her hand.

The stitches are still fresh after pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Aaron Robison at Loma Linda University Health meticulously took 10 hours to disconnect half of Brianna's brain.

"After surgery, her entire left side of her body is turned off," said the girl's mother, Crystal Bodley.

Last year, Brianna was diagnosed with Rasmussen's Encephalitis, a rare, chronic inflammatory disease that affects about 500 children in the U.S. every year. A vibrant young girl who used to love singing, dancing and reading had daily debilitating seizures that would eventually lead to learning disabilities and paralysis.

"Her leg would bend up all the time and she would have trouble walking," said Bodley.

Robison said as the seizures and inflammation damaged a side of Brianna's brain, it caused the brain to actually shrink. We first met Brianna in January when she was getting treated with anti-seizure meds and steroids, but the disease kept progressing.

"She would talk to me sometimes and said she was scared, but I told her, 'I know it's scary, but you will be okay,'" said her sister Torie Bodley.

Robison said Brianna's best option was to shut down half her brain.

"Just disconnecting it is enough to stop the disease completely and essentially, potentially cure it," he said.

In the old days, doctors used to remove half of the brain, but that led to more complications.

Now, you can simply disconnect the nonfunctioning part of the brain. Robison said an elegant way to do that is through the brain's natural opening called the sylvian fissure.

"That enables us to cut away the white matter from the thalamus here," he said.

The left side of Brianna's brain is hard at work, taking over what the right side used to do. But doctors said even with half a brain, you can still live a whole life.

"Brianna will still be the same person, even after disconnecting half her brain," Robison said.

Brianna may lose some peripheral vision and some fine motor skills on her left hand but with various types of physical therapy, doctors expect she will be back to her old self, living seizure free.

"I just want to see her little Brianna running around doing her art work and having the fun she always had," said her grandmother Chris Breheim.