Riding for Olivia

Olivia Christen has been through a lot in her short life. At just 15 months of age, Olivia developed a form epilepsy that limited her cognitive growth and halted the development of the toddler’s personality.

According to her mother Anna the condition was devastating, and after months of failed medications and treatment, all that remained of her daughter was a “foggy, vacant shell of a girl who was once clever, cheeky and sparkly eyed.”

In 2014, Olivia (pictured right) underwent brain surgery at The Royal Children’s Hospital, travelling to Melbourne from their hometown in Cloncurry, outback Queensland.

“The surgery that Olivia underwent was localised to areas which suffer from high levels of seizure activity,” said Anna. “Because of research conducted at MCRI, surgeons were able to minimise the side effects of the operation.”

The research, developed by MCRI’s Neuroscience Research group, culminated in newly-developed sophisticated imaging technology.

The technology is known as diffusion MRI tractography. It provides virtual images representing the brain nerve fibre pathways, which cannot be accurately detected by the naked eye during the surgery. These nerve fibre pathways carry important information, such as those controlling movements, eyesight, and language. Surgical disruptions to these nerve fibre pathways can lead to functional impairments, adversely impacting a child’s overall brain development following surgery.

This imaging technology has been used widely in adult epilepsy brain surgery before MCRI researchers refined its use for children suffering from the condition. Developed by Dr Joseph Yang, the new technology enables surgeons to precisely plan and perform the operations, and remove difficult-to-reach lesions that would otherwise inadvertently damage the nerve fibre pathways that are close to these lesions.

“Olivia is now three years old and hitting average developmental markers for speech, cognition and physical ability. This is amazing and would not have been possible without this surgery,” said Anna.

In 2015, Olivia’s family embarked on a journey known as the Border Ride; a 203km bike ride to the Northern Territory border from Mount Isa.

Alongside 22 teammates (pictured right), they aimed to raise awareness for epilepsy and fundraise for research for the treatment of neurological disorders. Blitzing their fundraising target of $10,000, the team, known as “Through the Fog” raised over $26,500 for the Neuroscience team at Murdoch Children's.

“Our charity name ‘Through the Fog’ describes the effect epilepsy has on the brain,” said Olivia’s Dad, Peter. “Some days are clear and sunny, while others are foggy due to abnormal brain activity. Together our team was riding through the fog to find a cure.”

Peter and the team completed the massive trek in an incredible time of seven hours and 20 minutes.

Anna said, “It is a humbling experience given so many people assisted in this great cause, helping us to achieve a great result and raise awareness that can change the lives of many children and families.”

Want to raise money for MCRI? Learn more here.