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Illustrating the brains plasticity

From: Bolt, Martin. Instructor Resources for Myers Psychology. (4th edition)
Lecture/Discussion Topic: Maranda Francisco and Hemispherectomy
On August 7, 1985; surgeons removed the entire left hemisphere of 4-year-old
Maranda Francisco's brain. The young girl had suffered from epilepsy caused by an
extremely rare disease called Rasmussen's encephalitis. While seizures had affected
only her right side, she was rapidly losing the ability to walk, talk, eat, and learn. She
was on constant medication and lived her life in brief intervals between convulsions.
As often as 120 times a day, and sometimes only three minutes apart, seizures
made the right side of her body useless.
Since the surgery, Maranda has not suffered a single seizure. In kindergarten,
she was swimming and taking dancing lessons. In the 2 years following the surgery,
she grew 9 inches, learned to jump rope, and became a local celebrity. She talked
normally, and her memory was intact. She walked with a slight limp, although
therapy helped to minimize it. "Over the long haul, I'd anticipate she'll be able to live
quite a norma1life, with a mild weakness on the right side," says Benjamin Carson,
head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University, who performed the
After 10 hours in the operating room, Maranda woke up with the words, "I love
you, Mommy and Daddy." Maranda's speech had already migrated to the right side
of her brain. Part of her amazing recovery is attributed to the fact that her right
hemisphere had already taken over many of the functions of its deteriorating leftside counterpart. Maranda is not an isolated case. Brain hemispherectomy has been
performed successfully on others. In fact, Maranda, along with seven other "hemis"
and their families, have returned to Johns Hopkins Hospital for four days of mutual
support and testing.
In general, the effect of removal of one hemisphere is inversely related to the
age of the child at the time of surgery. If performed early enough, the surgery does
not seem to cause deficits in higher mental function in adulthood. Two different
theoretical conclusions have been drawn from this finding. One is that no shift from
one hemisphere to the other has occurred because lateralization of function is not
present in early infancy. The other is that hemispheric differences are present very
early in life, but the young brain has the ability to reorganize itself in the face of
damage to specific regions. Recent studies of the abilities of persons with left and
right hemispherectomies suggest that the latter plasticity explanation is more likely
to be correct.
Hemispherectomy dates back to 1928 when it was devised as a treatment for
malignant brain tumors. It was unsuccessful. "Not only did it not cure, but there was
great mortality (death) and morbidity (illness) associated with it," reports Carson.
The surgery was used again in the 1940s and 1960s as a treatment for seizure
disorders, but each time it fell into disfavor because of postoperative complications.
A number of medical advancements have contributed to its present success.
Nevertheless, certain drawbacks may always remain. For example, some
neurological functions do not transfer from one hemisphere to the other. All the
"hemis" remain blind in one-half of each eye. They also continue to have some
degree of paralysis on one side of their bodies. Fine motor movement is lost in one
hand. No dramatic changes occur in personality, with one exception: The children are
happier. Jason Brandt, Johns Hopkins neuropsychologist, concludes: "That a child with

half a brain can indeed be a whole person, speaks to the malleability of both the
human brain and human spirit. It's amazing, it's wonderful. I'm at a loss to describe
Shulins, N. (1987, September 20). Mind mystery. Grand Rapids Press Wonderland, pp. 40-41.
Springer, S., & Deutsch, G. (1993). Left brain, right brain (4th ed.). New York: Freeman.
AP Psych Module 4; Maranda Hemispherectomy.doc