Today, as Aisha Atkinson sees her smiling 5-year-old son Aries walking independently, humming the melodies of his favorite pop songs, she is proud of how far her son has come since he entered the world with two massive brain bleeds that developed into hydrocephalus and, consequently, cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects mobility and posture.
Born in November 2017 at 23 weeks gestation, Aries weighed just 1 pound, 11 ounces — small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. Manish N. Shah, MD, associate professor in the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery and William J. Devane Distinguished Professor with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, performed three surgeries at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital to help drain the life-threatening buildup of fluid in Aries’ brain that had developed during birth.
In January 2018, the 2-month-old became a pioneer as the first child to test cap-based transcranial optical tomography (CTOT), a groundbreaking wearable brain imaging device developed by Shah’s team.
The device does not require a baby to be put under anesthesia; instead, CTOT is essentially a hat that is placed on the child’s head while the child is being held by a caregiver. It uses night-vision goggle technology, near-infrared light, and high-resolution detectors to map the brain, allowing doctors to pinpoint which parts are not functioning normally. A treatment plan was developed for Aries.
Now approaching 6 years old, Aries — who just started kindergarten at Oakland Elementary School in Fort Bend — is walking on his own, and no longer requires a wheelchair. Though he’s still nonverbal, he’s made progress in speech and has developed an ear for music, composing his own songs on the piano. He continues to see Shah, as well as pediatric neurologists Indira Kommuru, MD, and Sarah Lund Wilson, MD; pediatrician Sevahn Carril, MD; and pediatric rehabilitation physician Stacey Hall, DO, all with UTHealth Houston.
“The day I was told Aries had cerebral palsy, I felt like my world was falling apart. But on the other side of that, I’m proud to say my son is living his own life on his own terms and accomplishing things in his own way,” says Aisha, who was named 2023 Texas Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc. “I’ve learned how important it is to embrace your child for who they are authentically. In loving them and showing others how you care for them, that is what will help make the world a much more inclusive place for people with cerebral palsy.”
At the Bedside is a series of patient stories with UTHealth Houston physicians and staff.
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