Born on August 6, 2002, Elisabeth Elliott is the middle child with two older brothers and a younger sister and brother. Good-natured, Elisabeth is always easy-going, sweet, and happy. She enjoys all the typical things girls love like animals, sleep overs, and babysitting.
“She was the easy one,” her mother Kim Elliott said.
When Elisabeth was four, her family took her to see “The Nutcracker.” She soon started dancing around the house and has been dancing ever since. Now 14, she recently appeared in the Houston Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.” Double cast in the production, Elisabeth plays a penguin servant in the snow scene and a lady in the Sugar Court.
However, the Elliott family once feared this day on the stage would never come for Elisabeth.
The Journey Begins
At a neighborhood yard sale in October 2011, two weeks after the birth of her new son, Kim noticed 9-year-old Elisabeth acting odd.
“I was looking at her and she started gulping and her face was blank,” Kim said.
Elisabeth was non-responsive to her mother’s repeated question, “Are you okay?” When Elisabeth came out of the episode, she turned around, ran, and then sat down and spoke. After Elisabeth was diagnosed with epilepsy, Kim realized Elisabeth had experienced seizures before, like an episode at school Elisabeth had described to her mother.
“She told me, ‘Mom I couldn’t talk,’” Kim said. “I thought maybe she was stuttering, but her teacher had asked her a question and Elisabeth said something like ‘fire hydrant.’”
Searching for the Right Treatment
Elisabeth saw her pediatrician right away and was referred to a pediatric neurologist, but the wait was three months long. By December, her seizures were occurring twice a week. She was vomiting and losing weight and strength rapidly.
Her pediatric neurologist prescribed a low-dose of Keppra that worked for three months, but the seizures eventually returned. After trying several different medications, Elisabeth’s seizures increased in frequency and severity.
“She would have three seizures close together,” Kim said. “We couldn’t be in a crowd or in a parking lot since she tried to run away during a seizure. She couldn’t spend the night at people’s houses or go swimming.”
Sugar Plum Fairy Makes a Life-Changing Connection
Fifteen months after her first seizure in 2011, Elisabeth was dancing in the Houston Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” alongside the son of Dr. Anne Anderson, medical director of the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) at Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Anderson asked Kim if Elisabeth was seeing an epileptologist, or a neurologist that specializes in epilepsy. Elisabeth was not and Dr. Anderson suggested Elisabeth be seen by a multi-disciplinary team at the EMU.
The Texas Children’s team examined Elisabeth’s MRI results, which revealed spots that her neurologist had not been able to identify. These mysterious spots were the ticket to Elisabeth’s successful treatment.
Dr. Anderson consulted with her associate Dr. Daniel Curry who confirmed Elisabeth might be a candidate for brain surgery. To confirm this was a viable option, Elisabeth withdrew from her medication under medical supervision and went under a variety of tests at the EMU in April of 2013. Off her medication, she had seizures every few minutes. After analyzing test results, the EMU staff determined her amygdala and hippocampus were the source of the seizures.
Elisabeth had a left temporal lobectomy on June 13, 2013. She experienced a few long auras after the surgery but has been seizure free and off medication since. True to her good nature, Elisabeth remained smiling and happy every minute she was in the hospital.
Getting Back into her Slippers and En Pointe
After her surgery, Elisabeth was weaker and had to fight hard to return to dancing. She worked diligently to regain her former strength.
“We are really proud of her because she never gave up on anything and never complained much either,” Kim said.
Looking back on the difficult years after her daughter’s diagnosis, Kim believes those tough times strengthened their family. Elisabeth’s siblings learned the importance of taking care of each other and treating people living with disabilities with kindness and understanding.
“It made us much stronger,” Kim said. “My children learned such a valuable lesson: things happen that we cannot control.”
Kim noted that the care from Texas Children’s Bluebird Clinic was invaluable in helping her family through Elisabeth’s surgery. She also wants other parents to never stop fighting for their child’s care.
She added, “I didn’t know and I researched a lot. I’ve already told a few mom’s with children living with epilepsy to escalate care.”
With Elisabeth’s surgery and seizures behind her, she looks forward to many more years of dancing and living to the fullest.