Living with half her brain, but full of hope

Toddler Katie Verdecchia and her mom, Maryalicia, visit Skyridge Middle School to tell students about Katie's unusual surgery

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Maryalicia Verdecchia talks with students about her 2-year-old daughter Katie's rare brain operation. Despite having more than half of it removed in a surgery to help stop seizures, the toddler is excellent at spelling and putting together puzzles, and enjoys playing on her iPad, as seen here.

When Katie Verdecchia entered the world on March 31, 2008, she appeared to be a normal, healthy child.

But by the time she was one month old, her parents, Maryalicia and Brian, knew something was wrong.

Katie had violent seizures, some lasting as long as 10 minutes.

By the time she was 1, Katie had been diagnosed with Aicardi syndrome, a rare genetic condition. Only 300 to 500 people worldwide have the disorder, most of them female.

If her parents did nothing, chances are Katie would only live to be 8 years old. So, she underwent a rare surgery, in which the right side of her brain was removed. This surgery has been performed less than 200 times.

Last week, Katie and her mom, who live in Vancouver, visited Skyridge Middle School’s leadership class.

Teacher Gail Welsh invited them to come after seeing the family on the “Today” show. and the local news.

“Since my academic focus in leadership has been our ‘incredible brain,’ I thought I must get a hold of Maryalicia and Brian,” she said.

During the presentation last week, Maryalicia told the students about Katie’s surgery.

“She has had no seizures since then at all,” she said. “She actually had four different surgeries that day, for a total of eight hours.”

One student asked how she would feel if the seizures came back.

“I’m not going to lie, I’ll be sad,” Maryalicia said. “But they’ll be better than they were before. In life, you have to learn to deal with stressors or it is going to break you. We had to accept that this is her normal.”

Katie does not talk yet, but communicates with her parents using a flash card system.

She also has an iPad, selects her own applications, and uses it to put together puzzles. She can even spell words such as “yellow” or “purple,” skills that would be difficult for many school-aged children.

“All of us were amazed at Katie’s iPad skills,” Welsh said. “And the miracle of all the new medical technology had the students in awe.”