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Wolf and Olivia worked first on strength and awareness. With her arm supported by a splint to keep it straight, Olivia would crawl around the therapy room looking for toys and puzzle pieces that Wolf had strategically placed to her left side.
"In the beginning, you had to kind of show her how to play with the toys," Wolf says. "You have to kind of teach them how to pretend again. Everything becomes more concrete for them."
They moved on to playing dress-up so that Olivia would remember how to put on a shirt and pants. Once she regained more flexibility in her fingers, they progressed to brushing her teeth and writing her name.
By the time she was discharged in mid-2006, Olivia was working on riding a tricycle and responding to "who" and "what" questions.
Much of her school day is still devoted to therapy. But, Jeff says, the difference between her life before and after the surgery is remarkable.
"Now we can let her go out in the backyard and swing on the swing set," he says.
"We can let her take a bath and actually walk out of the room and get a drink of water," Michelle adds.
"Now she's got a chance to learn. She might go to college," Jeff says. "Before, getting through high school may not have happened."
Still, challenges and uncertainties hang over the young parents. Gradually since the surgery, they've weaned Olivia off her cocktail of medications. But she will continue to take Topamax until the end of 2007 to make sure the seizures don't return. Even then, Jeff wonders how the years of medications taken at such high doses will affect his growing daughter.
If Grafman has one piece of advice for the Johnsons, it's that the most vital aspect of recovery after this surgery isn't physical; it's social. Her young classmates are either considerate of or unaware of Olivia's uniqueness. But Michelle knows that the 7-year-old's greatest challenge may be adolescence.
"I worry more as she gets older," Michelle says. "Kids can be so mean." The oldest hemispherectomy patients are now in their mid-20s. Jill Scherler is 24. She started having seizures in 1984. For a year and a half, her doctors in Walters, Oklahoma, a town of 2,610 residents in the southwest part of the state, couldn't tell her parents why.
At the end of 1985, Kim and Stan Scherler took Jill to Johns Hopkins for an evaluation. On January 15, 1986, doctors removed her right hemisphere. It was only the third hemispherectomy there since Ben Carson reintroduced the procedure.
Over the telephone, Jill's speech is clear but measured. She answers questions literally and without elaboration.
Her memories begin with therapy.
"I guess it felt strange to not use my left arm anymore, but you find other ways to do things," she says. "I can tie my shoes one-handed, which wasn't easy. And, of course, opening a can of beans was difficult. But then they came out with a one-handed can opener."
Her parents waited an extra year to send her to kindergarten, but once she started school she stayed with her class through her senior year at Walters High School. Graduation, Jill says, was one of her proudest moments.
Kim says living in a small town was a blessing: All the kids had grown up with Jill, so her high school years went smoothly. If kids asked why she walked with a slight drag on her left leg, or why her left arm curved in front of her stomach instead of swinging at her side, or why the fingers on her left hand seemed frozen into a single unit, she told them, "I was born healthy, but at the age of 2, I started having seizures and had the right half of my brain removed."