Amanda Gennaro was a toddler when she had her first seizure.
It was a “gelastic” seizure. Unlike more common “grand mal seizures,” which are characterized by muscle convulsions and loss of consciousness, gelastic seizures produce episodes of sudden rage or laughter. And they made it difficult for Gennaro to interact with other children.
She was first diagnosed with childhood epilepsy — a condition doctors said she would someday outgrow.
But as Gennaro, now 21, got older, the gelastic seizures continued. She began to experience body tremors, changes in vision, and uncontrollable laughter at inappropriate times. Anti-seizure medication did little to help her debilitating condition.
Gennaro’s father, a paramedic, was determined to find the cause of his daughter’s ordeal. The family was referred to a UPMC neurologist, who conducted a high-resolution MRI. During this scan, her care team discovered a Hypothalamic Hamartoma, a rare benign tumor resting on the side of her brain that produces emotions, hormone balances, and other critical bodily processes.
In 2016, Gennaro became the first patient in western Pennsylvania treated for Hypothalamic Hamartoma using MRI-guided laser thermal ablation.
A recent breakthrough procedure, this minimally invasive surgery uses a laser fiber and MRI technology to target the source of a seizure — in Amanda’s case, the tumor on her hypothalamus. The procedure required only a tiny incision and opening into Gennaro’s skull. She was discharged just one day after the procedure.
“It was really nice to find the answer after so many years,” Gennaro said.