The New Yorker magazine has an article on hemispherectomies – surgical procedures which remove half of the cortex, usually in an attempt to cure otherwise life-threating epilepsy.
These operations are usually carried out on children, as remarkably, those in their early years can often develop normal adult skills and abilities if surgery is carried out early enough.
For example, a 2001 book by Antonio Battro (sample chapter: pdf) describes a three year old boy named ‘Nico’ who had the whole of his right hemisphere removed to control life-threatening epilepsy.
Nevertheless, he has developed with very little impairment and has turned out to be a bright and engaging child, despite the fact that a similar operation in adults would be profoundly disabling.
The New Yorker article charts the development of this procedure from the first operation on a human in 1923, to the latest in neurosurgical technology and practice.
Two of the pioneers of the procedure, Dr John Freeman and Dr Ben Carson are also featured, who explain how the team at John Hopkins first tackled a left hemispherectomy. Potentially hazardous, because the left side of the cortex has the majority of the language function in most people.
The article also introduces us to some of the patients who have had the procedure. Christina now drives, graduated from high-school and is studying at university, despite on having only one hemisphere of her brain left.
Link to New Yorker article ‘The Deepest Cut’.
pdf of sample chapter from ‘Half a brain is enough’.
Link to ‘Half a brain is enough’ book details.