A little girl’s four-legged friend is being trained to help her live with a difficult diagnosis, and the training is being paid for in part by community donors.
Western Branch fourth-grader Anna Grace Atkins, 9, was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy three years ago called “sunflower syndrome.” Her parents, Beth Ann and Jeremy Atkins, saw the first signs of her condition four years ago when she began waving her hand in front of her face.
“I thought she was brushing her hair from her face and I would pin her hair back, but she kept doing it,” Beth Ann Atkins said.
A neighbor noticed Anna Grace’s behavior and found videos and articles about the condition online. Young children with “sunflower syndrome” experience the urge to face the sun and wave an open hand in front of their eyes, which induces seizures.
Anna Grace’s pediatrician referred her to a neurologist through the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, where an EEG — electroencephalogram — recorded her brain activity. She was then sent home with a monitoring device.
The testing showed that she experienced seizures whenever she was outdoors.
“It’s basically a constant seizure the entire time she’s in sunlight,” Beth Ann Atkins said. “She will talk, and sometimes she’ll stop talking and not remember what she’s talking about.”
She also experiences several other types of seizures, such as “absence seizures,” indoors.
She has taken six different types of medications in the past four months, and while some of her seizures have been treatable, her outdoor seizures have been unwavering, Atkins said.
“It’s just not controlled by any medication so far,” she said.