Ten-year-old Carterton schoolgirl Grace Yeats today becomes the first child in New Zealand to receive electrical brain implants to help calm her violent spasms.
Grace was struck down in May with a brain disease after coming home from her St Mary's School classroom with a sore throat. She has been since bedridden in Auckland's Starship Hospital, where she is racked with frequent spasms and is unable to move or talk.
Family friend and neighbour Jonathan Tanner, spokesman for the Grace Yeats Trust, said the brain surgery Grace is undergoing was part of a treatment called deep brain stimulation that is believed to be a New Zealand-first for a child.
He said electrodes would be implanted in her brain and connected to a pacemaker in her chest to help calm and control "the hundreds, if not thousands" of severe spasms called dystonia that Grace has endured over the past six months.
The effect of the procedure is not apparent until after the pacemaker is calibrated and has been functioning for some time, he said.
"This surgery has never been done on a child before in New Zealand and apparently the number of children in the world that have it can be counted on one hand.
"It is an incredibly rare procedure for children," Mr Tanner said.
Mr Tanner said the spasms had persisted despite a regime of medication and earlier procedures, including a plasmapheresis treatment that removed, filtered and returned all her blood and, in an earlier New Zealand-first, the implantation of a baclofen spinal pump.
Her mother Tracy has not left her side since she was flown to Starship Hospital and the pair were joined yesterday by Grace's father Stephen and her brother Finn, 14.
Mr Tanner said the family was grateful for local support and friends who have travelled to see Grace in Auckland.
He is planning to soon travel to Auckland himself and said he shares family optimism the deep brain stimulation will succeed.
Once the spasms are under control, he said, Grace can start rehabilitation ahead of her eventual return home to Carterton.
The trust has raised more than $50,000 to help pay for ongoing costs to the family and remodelling of their home.