Not many parents can say their doctor cares for their child as much as they do. But the Justinich family considers themselves lucky to have that level of dedication from their son's pediatric neurologist Michael G. Chez, M.D.
When Evan was between three and six months old his mother Stacy noticed that Evan wasn't hitting developmental milestones around the same time as other like-aged babies. First, she noticed that he would only reach using his right arm. When he was around six months she also became concerned that Evan couldn't sit up on his own.
Evan was referred to a pediatric neurologist who suggested that during pregnancy Evan may have suffered from a stroke. But after an MRI and EEG testing the doctor diagnosed a brain malformation. He was started on physical and occupational therapies. But by the time he was 3-years-old, Evan started having seizures. Stacy wasn't happy with the level of care and information she was receiving from their pediatric neurologist and decided to switch Evan's care to a new pediatric neurologist that had come into town.
"We loved him right away," said Stacy, remembering the first time they took Evan to see Michael G. Chez, M.D., in 2008. "Dr. Chez sat down with me and showed me Evan's MRI. For the first time, I felt like I understood what wasn't right in his brain."
After a thorough evaluation of Evan's history and brain imaging, Dr. Chez prescribed medications that were tailored to Evan's needs.
"After seeing Dr. Chez and getting our initial treatment regime, Evan's seizures stopped and for the first time he was able to sleep through the night," Stacy said.
But as Evan's brain began to grow and change, his seizure activity increased and the Justinich family found themselves calling the ambulance on a few occasions. In 2012, Evan was admitted to Sutter Memorial Hospital 5 times between July and October in an effort to get his seizures under control.
"Dr. Chez never gave up," said Stacy. "We tried many different medication combinations and different therapies like the Ketogenic diet. Usually we could control the seizures for a few weeks or months, but then the seizures would return. And we couldn't consider neurosurgery because it would be too invasive for Evan's malformed brain."
In April 2013 when Evan was 8-years-old, Dr. Chez delivered some exciting news; there was a new, innovative minimally invasive laser ablation surgery for seizures and Evan was a candidate.
"We thought about our options," said Stacy. "Because the surgery wasn't invasive we thought he wouldn't be any worse off, and if it worked Evan would have such a better quality of life. We were scheduled for surgery within two weeks."
"The whole surgical process was amazing. We met with the surgical team including pediatric neurosurgeon Samuel Ciricillo, M.D. and neuroradiologist Azad Ghassemi, M.D., who walked us through the whole procedure on their iPad. Evan was in the hospital for less than 24 hours and left with only one staple and scrape on his forehead."
A year after surgery, Evan's EEGs have shown major improvements and he has been seizure-free. But even better than that, Evan's quality of life has improved and his family has less worry.
"We've seen such an explosion in development and potential with Evan," said Stacy. "He is using more words, asking more questions and so much more alert. He can participate in school activities like horseback riding and swimming. From where we were before to where we are now is such a huge difference for everyone."
"We are grateful for every day we are seizure free. And we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Dr. Chez. He worried about Evan as much as we did and didn't accept that Evan had to live with seizures. And everyone that we've encountered along the way has made our journey so positive. From the staff in the emergency room to the nurses PICU where he celebrated his 8th birthday; the special letters that were mailed to us at home and the child-life team who always had the iPad ready for Evan before his MRI; to Becca, the therapy dog in Dr. Chez's office and our pediatricians who came to visit Evan when he would spend several days in the hospital. They all show that they cared and that it wasn't just a job."