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.
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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.
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“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.
The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. U.S. News & World Report ranks neurology and neurosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as among the best in the country. We also rank among the top neurosurgery departments in the U.S. for National Institutes of Health funding, a benchmark in research excellence.