My Nephew and his Brain, Part 3 – Try to Work Out their Troubles

Continued from Part 2. After we had been transferred to the large university hospital, the doctors decided to delve more deeply into the specifics of my nephew’s brain malformation. The MRIs had told us some things, but not everything, so they scheduled him for a Positron Emission Tomograph, commonly known as a PET-scan. A PET-scan uses radioactivity coupled with a biologically-active molecule and after injection, the biological molecule congregates in the area of interest, in our case, my nephew’s brain. The radioactivity attached to the biological molecule then starts letting its extra neutrons go in a process called decay. This decay, through a very complicated process, is read by the PET scanner and brain activity can be assessed. What this very comprehensive scan told the doctors and subsequently us was that the right side of my nephew’s brain couldn’t send electrical signals properly and this aberrant electrical activity was causing the seizures. Unfortunately, the only way to stop the activity was to take out whatever in the right hemisphere was giving the wonky signals, so my nephew, at the age of four months, was scheduled for brain surgery.

The surgery was on a Tuesday, and all the family we could gather waited with us in the hospital waiting room while the twelve-hour surgery progressed. We received periodic updates from the operating room telling us he was doing well, and after a very-long day, the surgeon came out and told us that it had been successful; they had removed the malformed part of his brain. The unexpected part, however, was that the malformation had not been restricted to a discreet part of the right hemisphere, so instead of taking a section, they ultimately decided to take out the entire hemisphere. But, the doctors were hopeful that this would curtail the seizures because the left side of the brain appeared normal, and my nephew was resting comfortably in the pediatric intensive car unit upstairs, so we were thankful.

After the surgery, they thoroughly examined the hemisphere they had taken out, and at last, we knew why the malformation had happened. In my nephew’s case, a non-neuronal cell had not followed the chemical roadmap laid out for it during development and so had ended up in the wrong place, namely the brain, which is supposed to be made up exclusively of neurological tissue. It had started dividing and after a time had developed a cyst in the right hemisphere, which in turn forced the neuronal tissue in the brain to develop around it. This cyst prevented the normal electrical patterns and had caused the seizures. Because this cyst had apparently developed early in my nephew’s brain development, the whole hemisphere had formed around it and had been disrupted. But now, the hemisphere was gone, and we looked to a new future for my nephew.

Editor’s note: this the third of a four-part series offered by Flummerfelt. Tomorrow, we will reveal the part four. Read parts one and two.

Karen Flummerfelt, MS

Karen Flummerfelt, MS, has been a lab instructor in microbiology at UCLA for the past four years with a nephew who is a neurological marvel. Currently, she is a lab instructor for UCLA Extension and an online faculty member at the University of Phoenix. She holds a master's degree in Microbiology from UCLA.
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