Brain surgery gives toddler with epilepsy new chance at life


Savanna and her twin brother Austin were blowing out their candles when she had a seizure.

"She was strapped into a chair, she's still noodling out, almost falling out of the chair," said her father, Ken Lininger.

"It was like she was gone," said her mother, Rebecca Lininger.

The seizures kept coming, and the little girl, born healthy like her twin brother, began having hundreds of seizures a day.

Savanna's development stopped, and she began regressing mentally. When Rebecca would briefly go into the other room to take care of her other children, there was always the risk of Savanna having a seizure. Many times Rebecca had returned to find Savanna not breathing and turning blue.

"I'd see her in a seizure and you start counting, you say, 'Oh my God did I miss one? Has it been going on longer than this?'" Rebecca said.

Desperate, the California family moved to Houston for her treatment.

"There were a few places in the country that had the care she needed and the economy to support our family," Ken said.

Dr. Gretchen Von Allmen is Savanna's pediatric neurologist at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital and UTHealth.

"We definitely have tools that don't exist in other places in the United States for dealing with these types of difficult-to-control epilepsies," Von Allmen said.

At Children's Memorial Hermann, neurologists used sophisticated tests like a Magnetoencephalography scan, one of two such scans available for patients in Texas. It helped pinpoint the area in the brain that was causing her seizures. And it was operable.

"The feeling of gratitude and joy that there was something to be done, even if it meant taking out half her brain. It was unbelievable," Rebecca said.

Savanna became one of the youngest patients to ever have epilepsy surgery.

"After the first surgery, it was miraculous. We brought a different kid home from the hospital," Ken said.

A few months later, Savanna had a second epilepsy surgery to remove more of the area that was causing her seizures. Savanna became seizure free, and on her second birthday, she celebrated six months without a seizure.

With tears in her eyes, her mother said that she and her husband thought Savanna was destined for a life confined to a bed at the developmental level of an infant, never having the chance to even go to school.

"I dreamt that someday she'd be able to go to school on a short bus. And because of the surgery, she may start preschool with her brother," Rebecca said.

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