Patient Stories | Zoe and Medically Refractory Epilepsy

Seizure-Free Following Brain Surgery, Zoe Finds Happiness and Sense of Calm Teaching Adaptive Yoga

Zoe Blair celebrates two birthdays every year: her actual birthday in October and the anniversary of her life-changing brain surgery every September. 

“We always celebrate this day [September 25] as her second birth because it was the day she got her life back,” said her mom, Michelle. “Now 10 years later, she is an amazing, independent, active person, so far removed from that first diagnosis." 

At 5 months old, Zoe suffered her first seizure. Local doctors in Dayton were blunt in their assessment, telling Zoe’s parents, Michelle and Jeffery, that the seizures would not go away and that their daughter most likely would not enjoy a good quality of life.

Refusing to accept the grim diagnosis, they requested a second opinion from another pediatric neurologist. After weighing their options and receiving a referral to the Cincinnati Children's Division of Neurology, they headed south down Interstate 75 for Zoe’s care.

At the first appointment, Michelle said they were put at ease as the pediatric neurologist thoroughly explained Zoe’s condition—medically refractory epilepsy—in easy-to-understand terms. In this form of epilepsy, medicines are unable to control the patient’s seizures. However, the family was reassured that other treatments were available and that Cincinnati Children’s experts had experience treating many other patients like Zoe. 

“[The neurologist] looked us in the eye and told us our baby would live a long and wonderful life. And she was right,” said Michelle. “I can’t imagine what [Zoe’s] life would look like if we had never gone to Cincinnati Children’s.”

Successful Brain Surgery Changes Zoe’s Life Forever

Over the years, Zoe has been treated by a myriad of doctors, nurses and experts from different specialties across Cincinnati Children’s, including occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT) and speech therapy

But it was neurosurgery—specifically, a left functional hemispherotomy—performed by the Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Francesco Mangano, DO, just before Zoe’s 12th birthday, that changed her life forever.

“Before surgery I couldn’t really do much, but now I can do so much with my life,” said Zoe, now 22. “I’ve tried to just think positive. My life has not been easy since surgery, and I still have health problems, but I’m definitely so much better off since surgery.” 

According to Dr. Mangano, Zoe is one of many patients treated at Cincinnati Children’s who have been able to experience a better life and more personal freedom following successful neurosurgery. 

“The operation is quite complex, and she did very well through it,” said Dr. Mangano. “Epilepsy surgery is a very gratifying practice for those patients we can make seizure-free, because we are offering them a much different and more productive life.”

Today, Zoe remains seizure-free but still travels to Cincinnati Children’s for follow-up appointments and is seen by her primary neurologist, Todd Arthur, MD, as needed.

Spreading Happiness and Confidence through Yoga

In her free time back home, Zoe enjoys walking 6 to 7 miles every day. She also practices adaptive yoga and teaches it on her own YouTube channel, Zoe Rox The Yoga. Since its launch in December 2021, her channel now includes over 25 videos.

Zoe started the channel with simple goals in mind: to spread happiness and confidence one video at a time. 

“I hope when people watch the channel they understand [that they] can do yoga at any level, that they feel more confident in themselves, and that they have a happy life,” said Zoe. 

Well aware that yoga isn’t for everyone, Zoe said she was uncertain herself at first, but then discovered a stronger appreciation for yoga after noticing the many positive effects it had on both her body and mind. 

“I remember doing yoga occasionally at school, and at first I was against it because it seemed slow and cringe. But as I started doing it more often after graduating [from high school], I felt more alive,” she said.  

What began as a form of exercise to help Zoe build upper body strength, gradually became so much more. 

“I kept doing yoga because I did not expect the effects it would have on my mind. It calms my mind,” said Zoe. “My whole outlook on life is different since I started yoga. I’m a lot happier, and I find that I’m not as agitated. I just feel good about life.”

Whether it’s yoga or something entirely different, Zoe encourages others to try new things and hopefully discover more happiness in their lives. And for anyone who is currently battling seizures themselves, Zoe suggests the best path forward is to “just keep going.” 

“Trust your doctors. Write down your questions so you remember them. Don’t give up,” said Zoe. “It might seem scary, but just try to think of the good things. When I was having my surgery, I hadn’t heard of anyone else going through the same surgery. I just want others to feel supported.”

(Published February 2023)