Healing Hana: The little girl who can't stop gaining weight

Reporter: Denham Hitchcock | Producers: Naomi Shivaraman

The parents of a seven-year-old child were forced get her gastric band surgery after an operation to remove a life-threatening tumor left her with uncontrollable weight gain.

At just seven years old, Hana is at risk of dying from obesity — but what most people don’t realize when they look at her is her brain won't let her stop eating.

After an invasive brain surgery to remove a tumor that had halted her growth, Hana woke up with an unstoppable appetite, low metabolism and uncontrollable weight gain.

"All she could think about was eating,” Hana's mother, Naomi Tarraf, told Sunday Night.

"She didn't remember eating — when can I eat? When can I eat? Hannah I just gave you some food. But I am hungry when can I eat?”

Naomi and Hana’s father, Noor, first took her to see doctors after she suddenly stopped growing.

A scan revealed a brain tumor.

While the operation to remove it was successful Hana woke up with an unstoppable appetite and weight gain.

"Then the hunger started," Naomi said.

Hana before her brain surgery, she weighed 21.8 kilograms

"[The surgeon] definitely did the best that he was able to do under the circumstances. He removed the tumor, which for us was great, I am not sure anybody knew the consequences would be this."

No matter how they restricted her food intake, she continued to put on weight at an approximate rate of a kilogram per week.

A year after surgery to remove her tumor, Hana weighed 58 kilograms, her tiny knees and ankles were unable to carry her and she was confined to a wheelchair.

She was diagnosed with hypothalamic obesity.

Caused by an interference with the Hypothalamus during her surgery, Hana's brain is no longer able to register fullness when she eats so she has a constant feeling of hunger. In addition, her body registers her hunger and lowers her metabolism, storing energy as fat because it thinks it is starving.

Hana began putting on weight at a rate of a kilogram per week

"I was walking with a child who was dying a little bit more on a daily basis. I was losing her physically. I was losing her emotionally because she was so wrapped in her world of pain," Naomi said.

The family — including Hana's little sister Maryem — have been traveling around the world to find a way to reverse her weight gain, a condition doctors find difficult to explain.

Out of desperation, Noor and Naomi made the decision for their daughter to have gastric banding to buy her more time– a procedure never before performed on a child so young in Australia.

But doctors here were reluctant and they were forced to go to Noor's home country, Egypt.

For the first time since the tumor was removed, Hana began to lose weight.

"The fact that she actually doesn't constantly think of food. She suddenly became a child again."

"We would be sitting and just can hear [Hana and Maryam] playing and you are like isn't that the best sound ever. They are playing together and you just feel like this is what we want, this is happiness"

But the lap band is not a cure and with it Hana must continue taking steroids and thyroid medication, she swims up to a kilometer every day and eats her food at a rate of a mouthful per minute.

"It's not over by any means and the battle is not won, we don't consider the lap band a cure because at least from what we have read there is potentially a three year honeymoon period and then things might not stay the way they are."

Hana undergoes laser treatment in Canada to hopefully regenerate cells.

With the extra time on her side, Hana has an opportunity to try new treatments for her condition.

One possible treatment is laser therapy; it is experimental and recently led the family to Canada.

Dr Fred Kahn has made laser therapy his life's work and believes he can heal Hana's brain using light to restore the normal function of her brain cells.

Dr Fred Kahn has dedicated his life to researching laser therapy

"It's my hope and hopefully my expectation that her symptoms will largely be resolved her obesity will disappear"

"It's not appropriate in certain circles to say we do cure patients but we do do that and I take some pride in making that statement

Hana underwent three weeks of intensive laser therapy and time will tell if it has the desired impact.

"Her running around in the snow like that, enjoying herself, being a kid it was great."

You can read more about Hana at her mum's blog: www.nursenaomi.com