Local News

Surgery at Duke offers gift of life to ill child

Posted December 24, 2009 4:40 p.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2009 6:52 p.m. EST

There are no gifts under the tree in the Huntersville home of Antoine and Trena Burgess. They and their four children lost nearly everything while trying to save their daughter's life.

The Burgesses face foreclosure and a mountain of medical bills, but they got a priceless gift last week when their daughter, Anisa, underwent surgery at Duke University Hospital.

Anisa, 8, has suffered seizures since 2004. She would undergo as many as 60 debilitating attacks each day.

"You think to yourself, 'My God, I don't know what to do.' And that's the worst feeling when your child is looking at you," Trena said.

When the family reached out for help, they found the doors closed. They lost their health insurance after Anisa's seizures started and could not get coverage due to her pre-existing condition, Antoine said.

He left his six-figure job to help care for the family's three other children and sought treatment for Anisa from various doctors and hospitals.

For five years, the bills piled up. They tapped retirement funds, savings, credit cards.

"We were trying to feed our kids and pay our bills like everyone else," Antoine said. "It got to a point where you don't have anymore."

"Had we had this coverage, I wouldn't be sitting here with you with our house in foreclosure, without our family car."

Finally, the family came to Duke.

"They were the first ones who looked at me and said, 'We can help Anisa,'" Trena said.

Officially, Anisa had cortical dysplasia, an abnormality that develops in the womb. Neurons in the brain get too big and misfire, sending signals which can cause seizures.

Anisa hasn't had a seizure since surgeons removed part of her brain.

There are no Christmas gifts at the Burgess household, but they got the one gift that truly matters -- a chance at life for Anisa.

"Christmas is one of those things where it's about the children," Antoine Burgess said.

"Our gift is Anisa is alive and well, and she's going to walk out on her destiny."

The Burgesses have not gotten the bill from Anisa's latest surgery yet and she faces more rehabilitation and treatment.

But for this Christmas, seeing her sleep soundly is enough. "Our daughter now sleeps for the first time," Antoine said. "And my wife and I sleep for the first time."

"You just stay focused on the goal," Trena Burgess said.