In my mind I am a star.
As 6-year-old Cameron Mott sings and dances her way around her family’s North Carolina living room, it’s obvious she has some serious star power.
But things weren’t always this way. At age three she started having seizures and was diagnosed with cortical dysplasia, an abnormality in the development of the cerebral cortex.
"She was having six to 10 seizures a day," says her dad, Casey. The seizures robbed Cameron’s family of their little girl. Every morning she was clear and bright, but then the first seizure would hit. Cameron would lose consciousness and fall to the floor.
"It was like she was being sucked to the ground by a magnet," says her mom, Shelly. "She just hit so hard, so fast."
To control the seizures, the family had to use a sedative.
"It was a huge amount," Shelly says. "It would knock a grown man out." Yet 35-pound Cameron was so adjusted to the drug that, instead of being knocked out, she was in a fog for hours or even days.
Despite the seizures, she continued to function typically, but around age five she started to decline to the level of a two- or three-year-old. And the seizures continued.
Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with Rasmussen’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes progressive neurologic deterioration as the body produces antibodies that attack its own brain cells.
When Shelly and Casey heard the diagnosis, they started a desperate search for answers.
"Everything we kept reading was really scaring us to death," explains Shelly.
The answer they got was not easy to accept. Cameron’s best hope was a hemispherectomy, a surgery to remove half her brain. But they realized that the benefits far outweighed the risks.
The surgery left Cameron with hemiplegia - partial paralysis - on her left side. Initially, she could barely sit up, so she spent about a month at the Kennedy Krieger Institute - an internationally recognized leader in pediatric neurorehabilitation. While there, she had a unique opportunity to work in the Institute’s motion analysis laboratory on an unusual split-belt treadmill, a funny new machine that is doing some amazing things.
The treadmill is part of the lab’s innovative work researching how the brain learns walking patterns and how to teach it new ones.
With its two belts, the treadmill moves each leg at a different speed, causing the brain to adjust - temporarily eliminating a limp.
Over the course of two weeks, Cameron showed progress, her brain learning the new walking pattern. This is just the beginning as trials in the near future will explore the results of long-term training on the treadmill.
Cameron has recovered well. She is back in school, and the leg brace she wears is one of the few signs of everything she has been through. And Cameron isn’t letting anything stop her.
"She’s back to her silly singing and dancing self," says Casey.
"All she talks about is ballet," adds Shelly. "I’ve got to sign her up for classes."
As Shelly’s words hang in the air, it is easy to believe that before long Cameron will trade in her leg brace for ballet slippers.