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Epilepsy didn’t stop Courtney—but finding the right team stopped her seizures

A teenage girl with long brown hair holds a pad and paper and sits in a brightly colored room.
After a successful surgery at Cohen Children's Medical Center, Courtney is studying to be a medical assistant.

Athletic and full of life, Courtney was excited to kick off her sophomore year of high school with old friends, new teachers and a coveted spot on the school volleyball team. But during one of the season’s inaugural matches, a high-speed serve made its way toward her. Normally quick to respond, Courtney stood seemingly paralyzed on the court, and the crowd watched in shock as the ball flew past her—dangerously close to her face. A full 30 seconds passed before she regained control of her motor function.

After seeing a pediatric neurologist, Courtney was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and prescribed medication to manage the episodes, which began to occur with increasing frequency. The absence seizure Courtney had experienced on the court evolved into blank stare seizures that would cause her head to bob, mouth to drool and hands to rotate in circles, leaving her feeling disoriented and confused for up to 24 hours.

School became a blur. With lapses in memory occurring with each seizure, Courtney would forget entire lessons throughout the year. “I was physically there, but I wasn’t mentally there,” she explains. Her seizures were relentless. She missed more than 60 days of school and lost out on priceless memories with her friends and family. “My friends would talk about us hanging out, and I would tell them I wasn’t there. But then they would show me pictures from that moment—and there I was.”

Then, on Christmas morning, Courtney had three seizures in a row, each one worse than the one before. “It was like she was digging through the bottom of the mug,” her mother Nadine says, recalling how Courtney stirred her hot chocolate and stared blankly into the distance.

Each episode taxed Courtney’s body and mind. The involuntary motion combined with blackout periods resulted in extreme sadness and exhaustion so great that she would fall into a deep sleep within minutes of each seizure. Nadine knew her daughter needed urgent help, so she brought her to Cohen Children’s Emergency Department, where they spent the rest of the day searching for answers.

The emergency team assessed Courtney and determined that her medication was not properly managing her seizures. They knew she needed an expert team of specialists to help control her condition, so they referred her to the Division of Pediatric Neurology at Cohen Children’s. Her new team of neurologists worked together to finally offer Courtney a proper diagnosis—temporal lobe epilepsy, a form of the disorder that is resistant to medication.

“The doctors spoke to me, not at me,” Courtney says of her time at Cohen Children’s. “It was at that moment that I began to understand what was going on.”

Courtney’s team at Cohen Children’s ultimately devised a cohesive treatment plan that included surgical intervention. They recommended a two-stage operation. During the first surgery, doctors placed an internal EEG to determine where and how often Courtney’s seizures were occurring. Within 48 hours, the EEG registered 10 seizures—a number far higher than even Courtney was aware of.

Armed with the information they needed, Cohen Children’s neurosurgery team (led by Dr. Shaun David Rodgers) performed Courtney’s second surgery. They took out the implantable devices and removed the portions of Courtney’s brain that were causing her seizures—the right anterior temporal lobe, medial hippocampus, para hippocampus and amygdala. The success rate for curing seizures with this surgery is about 75 percent.

For Courtney, it was 100 percent.

Image of a scar on a girl's head. Her hair is buzzed short and there's a tattoo of a purple ribbon on her head.
Courtney painted a purple ribbon next to her surgery scar in support of those with seizure disorders. She proudly showed off the look leading up to a walk for epilepsy awareness hosted by EPIC Long Island.

One week after her surgery, she was ready to take the world by storm. This started with small (but important) wins, like a trip to the mall with friends—and without mom. Eventually Courtney hit another milestone: being seizure-free for 100 days.

“I knew in my heart that she was finally going to be okay,” says Nadine. “I’ll never forget it. It was the first time in two years that I slept through the night.”

Today, Courtney is thriving. It’s been 14 months since her surgeries, and thanks to her team at Cohen Children’s, she remains seizure-free. This version of normal feels a lot like the one Courtney always envisioned—off her medication, having fun with friends and starting college, where she’s studying to be a medical assistant.

“She’s doing amazing,” says Dr. Rodgers. “She’s the home run we all hoped for.” 

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