To take one look at 4-year-old Abigail Battles, one would never be able to see the scars on her head, or know she had undergone brain surgery at the age of 2.
Today, Abigail is a very active, energetic, beautiful young girl growing up in Ashville. But the cute, little blonde endured more in her first two years than many will battle in a lifetime, as she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called arteriovenous malformation. This disorder causes abnormal tangles of arteries and veins in the brain.
“It was genetic and something she was born with,” Battles said. “We had no idea. I had a normal pregnancy, and she was a normal baby.”
When it started
Abigail was born May 5, 2008, the second child to Dewayne and Amanda Battles. Older son Sam was almost 2-years-old the day Abigail was born.
The young couple first noticed symptoms when Abigail started to tire easily, and her heartbeat became irregular. At 20 months old, she began to have mild seizures and strokes.
“She was laying in my lap sound asleep one day,” Battles said. “She woke up, and her eyes were wide open. But she would not respond to me. Her pupils were fully dilated. We sat her up, and she fell over. She would not do anything.”
They rushed her to a Birmingham hospital where doctors detected a spot on her brain through a CT scan. Another Birmingham hospital discovered the AVM.
“Doctors in Birmingham told me they were going to send her home,” Battles said. “As a parent and you hear your child has something in her brain, and they are just going to send her home. Something just doesn’t sound right.”
After phone calls and phone calls, and a month later, doctors in Birmingham sat down with the Battles and said because the surgery to remove the AVM was so serious, and carried a high risk in small children, they recommend waiting until Abigail was at least seven or eight years old.
Abigail’s health started declining. Her parents even consulted with neurosurgeons in Boston, who also wanted to wait until Abigail was older.
“The physicians were telling me this one procedure was too risky due to the dye shutting her kidneys down,” Battles said. “They also told me if they opened her up, it would mean instant death, and radiation would be too intense because most AVM’s are small. Abigail’s was six centimeters, so on a 20-month-old child that was taking up half her brain. They then told me they would do an MRI once a month. I told them no. Something had to be done now.”
On to Phoenix
Battles admitted there was so much frustration in Birmingham. That’s when she turned to the Internet and found an AVM survivors website. She found out about Barrow Neurological Institute and its director, Dr. Robert Spetzier, in Phoenix.
“I asked the doctors here (Birmingham) to check her heart before we ever went to Phoenix,” Battles said. “They told me her heart was fine. When we got to Phoenix, the doctors there asked me did I know that Abigail had a murmur. I told them I had not been told that, but I assumed she did because I could see her heart beating. You could see the murmur. The doctors in Birmingham ignored my concern.”
When three neurosurgeons at Barrow examined Abigail, they decided to do immediate surgery.
“I asked one of the surgeons if he felt good about this decision,” Battles said. “He told me if it was his daughter, he would treat it. He also said if we did not go ahead and treat it, she would live one year, three years at the most. Had I listened to doctors in Birmingham, she would be dead now. Her heart would have given out.”
Battles said her daughter’s brain was not getting blood flow to the right areas because it was going through this cluster, and it was causing the brain to start dying on one side.
“Abigail’s AVM was life threatening and extremely complex,” Dr. Spetzier said. “Its size and very large blood flow put her brain and heart at significant risk. Because our team at Barrow has treated so many difficult AVMs from around the world, we thought that treatment was indicated due to Abigail’s deteriorating course and the very high risk of not doing anything. I am delighted with her outcome, and expect her to do very well.”
Abigail has been to Phoenix a total of three times. The second trip was a follow-up to her successful surgery, and that’s when they found an aneurism in her brain.
“They had to repair that,” Battles said. “The third trip was last summer and all was well.”
Abigail is a normal 4-year-old girl, who enjoys life just like any other normal 4 year-old. Although some doctors have said she should be severely delayed developmentally, like not walking, running or climbing, she is not. Although some doctors said her head was going to be larger on one side, it is not.
“She is perfect,” Battles said. “She is amazing and tough. Doctors say just watch her, and let her do normal things. My main concern for her right now is her heart, because there was some damage done due to it being enlarged. She takes medication for it, and goes to the cardiologist every six months to make sure there are no changes.”
Abigail attended God’s Kid’s preschool in Springville last year. Sam starts first grade this year at Ashville Elementary School, and that’s where Abigail plans on enrolling as a kindergarten student next year.
Abigail has been seizure free for a year, so they recently took her off her seizure medicine.
Because this was genetic in Abigail’s case, older brother, Sam, had to be tested.
“He does have the genes, and that means there is a 50 percent chance that one of their children could have what she had,” Battles said. “It is not known if hers could reoccur. It is possible, or she could get one in other parts of her body.”
Standing in the need of Prayer
Battles said when all this took place with Abigail, their church had just started revival. They attend Red Hill Missionary Baptist in Springville.
“They were our rock,” Battles said. “We have an amazing church family who supported us with their prayers, cooking meals, and financially helping us get to Phoenix. We could not have made it without their help. I have received letters from so many people and even as far away as Australia saying they were praying for Abbie. It is amazing she had all the prayers going up. Without God we could not have made it. We were praying for God’s guidance long before we made the decision to go to Phoenix.”
Battles said her prayer was answered the day she called the hospital in Phoenix. They told her there would be a $100 fee for doctors to review Abigail’s history.
“That same day, I received a check in the mail from someone I didn’t even know, and it was in the amount of $100,” Battles said. “I was thinking that’s our sign right there. When I called back to Phoenix, they told me they didn’t even need the $100. It’s hard to talk about it without crying. I know God was and still is in control. I knew I had to hold myself together for Sam too, cause he was only three. He needed momma too. He was an awesome big brother. He went to the hospital everyday to check on his sister. Abigail was on a ventilator for six days, and I was unable to hold her for those six days. That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”