Life changing: Indiana boy has brain surgery to stop epileptic seizures

A local child received a rare, life changing surgery as Chicago doctors became the second in the world to perform the operation.

It has meant a world of difference for the boy who has always suffered from epilepsy, which has kept him from enjoying normal childhood activities.

"It's like a brand new kid just came out," said mother Amanda Morey.


Zachary Kurek, 11, from northwest Indiana is only the second person in the entire world to have had an innovative brain surgery to stop his seizures.

Julia Henry, an Epileptologist from UChicago Medicine, says Zach has suffered with worsening seizures since he had a major stroke when he was born. It left severe scarring on the left side of his brain.

"Over the years, they became more frequent, more bothersome. They were disrupting him at school, interfering with his activities. Because his stroke had damaged so much of that left side that really the whole thing needed to be disconnected. So we knew that he needed this hemispherotomy surgery," Dr. Henry said.

"At first we thought it's scary. If you go and look at hemispherectomies, they're major operations," Zach's mother said.

It is major brain surgery, as doctors have to disconnect one half of the brain from the other.

Morey let her son make the final call.

"One day he had a pretty bad one and he said 'schedule my surgery. I don't want to do this anymore,'" she said.

Dr. Peter Warnke, director of Stereotactic Surgery for UChicago Medicine led the complicated surgery called an interstitial laser functional hemispherectomy, where instead of cutting open the boy's skull, they drilled five tiny holes to send lasers deep into his brain.

"The exact diameter of the laser fiber we are implanting is 1.6 millimeter," Dr. Warnke said.

That's about the diameter of a spaghetti noodle.

Using an MRI as a guide, the thin lasers cut nerve endings, basically cutting communication between the two sides of Zach's brain. So if the left side of his brain has seizure activity, the right side does not get the message and his body cannot react.

Zach had the surgery February 4 and has not had a seizure since. His mom says his vocabulary has doubled and the world has opened up.

"It’s so much different now. Just watching him run and play. Stuff he would never even attempt to do before because he knew it would give him a seizure. He's just more optimistic about life in general. He wakes up saying ‘good morning. Can I go outside and play?’" Morey said.

FOX 32 asked Zach whether he is happy he had the surgery. His answer was, "heck yeah."

This surgery is not for all epilepsy patients, but doctors say if medications are not controlling a child's seizures, their parents should ask their doctor about the surgical option.

Zach's surgery took eight hours, and UChicago Medicine just got a new robot to speed up the process next time.