The Girl With Half a Brain

By all accounts, Christina Santhouse has an aspirational life. At 36, she is married, owns her own home, has a master’s degree, and works a fulfilling job as a speech pathologist. You would never suspect that 28 years ago she had half of her brain removed. When Santhouse was 7 years old, she was diagnosed with Rasmussen’s encephalitis, an inflammation of one of the hemispheres of the brain. The condition is life threatening and causes frequent seizures. By the time Santhouse was 8 years old, she was having in the neighborhood of 150 seizures a day. In lieu of chemotherapy or steroid treatments, Santhouse had a 14-hour hemispherectomy, a procedure in which the right side of the brain is surgically removed. She lost most of her motor skills on the left side of her body, but that didn’t deter her from fulfilling her dreams. She decided in high school that she wanted to have career in which she helped people, and ultimately went on to become a speech pathologist. She enrolled at Misericordia University, a private Roman Catholic university in Dallas, Pennsylvania. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in just 5 years. Upon graduation, she got a job at Bucks County Intermediate Unit, which provides services for public schools in Philadelphia, and saved enough money to buy a house. During that time, she joined a church group and met her husband, Vince Paravecchia, who didn’t even notice her disability at first. Today, Santhouse believes that her illness was a blessing. “My life has surpassed all my wildest dreams. There are just blessings that are poured into my life and I would never trade my life for anything,” she said. “I have an amazing life that is not defined by my brain.”