Amanda’s Story: Recovery from Debilitating Seizures

WRITTEN BY: Neurosurgery
Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

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.

Learn more about Gennaro’s procedure and recovery on UPMC.com. Find more information, visit the UPMC Neurosurgery website.



UPMC is ranked among the top hospitals in the nation for neurosurgical care by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, UPMC is one of the few medical centers in the U.S. – and throughout the world – with expertise in the full array of surgical options for brain and spine conditions. Our world-renowned experts are committed to finding the best treatment approach for each patient, maximizing the benefits of surgery while minimizing the risks. Read More