Hypothalamic Hamartoma Was Causing 250 Seizures per Month
A 29-year-old Arizona man who suffered nearly 250 seizures a month from a rare brain tumor is now seizure-free after undergoing a new type of laser brain surgery at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Chris Murto, who was born with a type of tumor called hypothalamic hamartoma (HH), underwent the new procedure at Barrow in August to remove the mass causing his seizures.
Murto lived his entire life plagued by the intensity and consistency of his seizures caused by the tumor. Although HH tumors are benign, they can cause severe seizures, damage to the brain, and lead to progressive cognitive impairment. By the time Murto turned 13, his HH tumor had caused his seizures to increase rapidly and his IQ to drop so low that doctors told his parents he would never be able to live an independent life.
“At that time, removal of the tumor was considered extremely difficult if not impossible because HH tumors lie in a portion of the brain that is hard to reach without causing severe damage to vital areas,” says Maura Murto, Chris’ mother.
Murto had two options to help regulate his seizures – antiepileptic medication and adhering to a very strict diet called the ketogenic diet. Although the medication and diet drastically helped, Murto continued to experience a high number of seizures.
“At one point, I was having a seizure every few minutes,” says Murto. “It’s impossible to explain the amount of pain I was experiencing.”
Murto and his family researched new HH surgeries as they were introduced but considered them too risky. When they learned that Murto was a candidate for the new laser technology, which became available at Barrow in November, they decided that this was his best option.
The new minimally invasive brain surgery uses MRI-guided laser technology to destroy HH brain tumors. Once the laser is inserted into the skull, the surgeon uses MRI technology to make sure the laser precisely pinpoints the tumor. Once the laser reaches the tumor, it radiates, heating the tumor and effectively destroying the mass within seconds.
“Before this type of technology, patients with HH had to undergo invasive surgery to remove the mass,” says Peter Nakaji, MD, neurosurgeon at Barrow. “The new laser surgery is minimally invasive, usually requires a single stitch, and one night’s stay in the hospital.”
Murto has not had one seizure since undergoing the procedure. “This surgery has changed my life,” says Murto. “It’s amazing to have instantly gone from having 250 seizures a month to not having one. After all these years, I’m finally able to live an independent life.”
HH tumors affect approximately 1 in every 200,000 individuals. Barrow was the first hospital in the United States to treat HH tumors and the Institute’s Hypothalamic Hamartoma Center provides comprehensive evaluation, diagnostic testing and treatment for patients. Research is currently underway at Barrow to better understand why HH tumors cause seizures and to develop additional treatment options.