ROSEVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) — After a 9-year-old Roseville girl suffered a severe stroke last February, doctors said her chances of survival were slim. Now, even though Grace Alpers has one more surgery left, she has already defied the experts’ odds.
“She was about as close to being dead when she came in as any child we’ve seen,” said Dr. Joseph Petronio, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “I don’t think I have ever seen a child come in so profoundly ill and make such a dramatic recovery.”
Grace’s mother, Christine Alpers, remembers when the sudden illness began on Feb. 1, as Grace was getting ready for school.
“She just came in and said she had a headache, which is uncommon for her. I told her to get a glass of water, go get something, she’d be fine if she ate something,” said Christine.
Her mother called 911 minutes later.
“Her left side had gone weak and she was drooling,” Christine said. “She is a perfectly healthy little girl never even been on antibiotics in her life, nothing, so for this to happen, just a little mind blowing.”
An ambulance rushed Grace to St. Paul Children’s where she underwent immediate brain surgery, after a scan revealed a severe brain bleed.
Petronio, who performed the surgery, says Grace was born with a blood vessel defect called Arteriovenous Malformation, also known as an AVM, which burst in her brain. He describes her condition as a tangle of blood vessels similar to a ball of yarn. The rupture was so severe, Petronio says she defied a world of worst case scenarios.
“We were amazed by her recovery. It’s a credit to the entire system,” said Petronio, who says timing was crucial for the life-saving surgery.
“It’s basically a blood vessel that is not supposed to be there, sometimes they never burst, sometimes they do, and her’s burst,” said Christine. “It was the size of a grapefruit they said. Her nurses said it was one of the largest they have ever seen and she shouldn’t have survived.”
Grace spent nearly two months between St. Paul Children’s and Gillette Children’s.
On Wednesday morning, she will undergo one last brain surgery to remove the remainder of the problem vessels.
Grace is expected to fully recover, but has little memory of her most severe moments.
“I think it’s awesome that I did survive,” said Grace, who instead with a smile remembers the things that are most important to 9-year-old patients. “The nurses were good, food was good, therapy good — all so awesome.”
Petronio said about 1 in between 5,000 and 10,000 children are born with this same type of blood vessel problem. He says it can serve as a reminder to parents that in children, not all headaches are benign.
He added that children with an AVM condition are more likely to have strokes than adults with the same condition.