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Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Healthwatch Fall 2008

Brain Surgery Ends Migraines for Teen

Medical Expertise and Compassion Relieve Family's Fears

Brain Surgery Ends Migraines for Teen

When 17-year-old Katryna suffered a seizure five years ago, doctors at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital determined she had suffered an allergic reaction to a medication she was taking for kidney problems. However, in the process of examining her with a CT scanner, they also discovered a suspicious-looking growth inside her brain. Further investigation with an MRI revealed that the growth was a dime-sized cyst on the thalamus, the part of the brain that acts as a relay station for nerve impulses carrying sensory information.

Because cysts are usually harmless, and Katryna's cyst had no connection to her allergy-induced seizure, doctors decided to intervene only if she began to experience neurological problems.

Four years later, Katryna began to experience daily migraine headaches with no apparent cause. An MRI showed that the cyst had grown to the size of a quarter, suggesting that the pressure of the cyst on surrounding areas of the brain could be causing her symptoms.

Ian Heger, MD, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital and a pediatric neurosurgeon on the medical staffs of Memorial Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital West, Memorial Hospital Miramar and Memorial Hospital Pembroke, recommended a procedure called endoscopic cyst fenestration. Using an endoscope, he would gently puncture the cyst and let the fluid drain away.

Calming Straight-Talk

As a parent, it's terrifying to think of your child having an operation, but Dr. Heger was very compassionate and knowledgeable.

"As a parent, it's terrifying to think of your child having an operation, but Dr. Heger was very compassionate and knowledgeable," says Mitzie, Katryna's mother. "He answered all our questions in a straightforward, down-to-earth way, with no doctor medical-ese. He talked to my daughter at her level as a teenager so she would understand what was happening."

The operation was minimally invasive, requiring only a small incision in Katryna's skull. The area of her scalp that needed to be shaved was only the size of a quarter.

Ian Heger, MD

Ian Heger, MD
Director of
Pediatric Neurosurgery

After the operation, Katryna's daily migraines stopped, and the cyst has shown no sign of growing back.

Because the surgery was done in the summer, Katryna missed no school and was ready for the start of her senior year. Energetic and athletic, with a sports resumé that includes track and field, biking, basketball and flag football, Katryna was back in the swing quickly. Just four months after the surgery, her energy level, appetite and activities were all back to normal.

True to Dr. Heger's word, "The hair grew back at the site of the incision, and now you can't even see the scar," says Mitzie. "All the people working with Dr. Heger were remarkable. They made sure everything was done right, and whenever I called the office, they were responsive to my needs. They were wonderful."

To find a Memorial physician who is committed to patient- and family-centered care, call Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Physician Referral Service toll-free at (866) JDCH-DOC. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.