Rare brain surgery a NZ first

By Nathan Crombie -
Carterton schoolgirl Grace Yeats. Photo / Supplied
Carterton schoolgirl Grace Yeats. Photo / Supplied

Carterton schoolgirl Grace Yeats will today become the first child in New Zealand to receive electrical brain implants to help calm her violent seizures.

Grace, 10, was struck down in May with a brain disease that is yet to be diagnosed. She had come home from her St Mary's School classroom with a sore throat and is now in Auckland's Starship Hospital suffering seizures and unable to move or talk.

Family friend and neighbour Jonathan Tanner, spokesman for the Grace Yeats Trust, said the brain surgery Grace was having was part of a treatment called deep brain stimulation 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 seizures called dystonia that Grace has endured daily over the past six months.

The effect of the procedure is not immediately 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 seizures 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.

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