Fifteen-year-old Amia Murray has been seizure-free since her minimally invasive brain surgery. Photos by Matt Wittmeyer
This teen’s seizures have stopped, following a minimally invasive procedure at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital.
By Laurie Yarnell
Today, 15-year-old Rochester resident Amia Murray “is a typical teen, into fashion, makeup and music,” says her mom, Taneesha Ashford.
But when Amia was about 5, Ashford, a licensed practical nurse, noticed her having hand tremors, first in her sleep and then while she was awake. When she developed a weakness in her right side that caused her to slump over, her pediatrician recommended that she be taken to a local emergency department. Testing showed that Amia had epilepsy, a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures. Affecting 1.2% of the U.S. population, the disorder impacts 26,600 children under 18 in New York State.
Amia was placed on anti-seizure medication and did well initially. But by the time she was 11, her condition progressed to full convulsions, even while on medication. Her neurologist referred her to Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. As a Level 4 Epilepsy Center, the WMCHealth facility provides the most comprehensive pediatric care available in the region.
There, she was evaluated by neurologist Steven Wolf, MD, who confirmed her diagnosis of intractable epilepsy, in which medication is ineffective in eliminating seizures. He referred her to his colleague, Carrie R. Muh, MD, Division Chief, Pediatric Neurosurgery and Surgical Director of Pediatric Epilepsy. Dr. Muh determined that Amia was a candidate for a pair of new minimally invasive brain surgeries. The first procedure would determine the location in her brain where her seizures originated, then the second would remove the abnormal area, potentially resolving the condition.
In early 2021, Dr. Muh performed the first surgery, a four-hour diagnostic procedure under general anesthesia called a stereotactic EEG. Using a computer-guided robot, Dr. Muh inserted electrodes into Amia’s brain. After implantation, Amia remained in the hospital for two weeks while her seizures were observed, measured and analyzed. Based on the data collected, Dr. Muh later performed an MRI-guided, minimally invasive therapeutic surgery, also under general anesthesia, called laser ablation. This deactivated the tissue causing the seizures.
Dr. Muh says Amia’s prognosis is “excellent.” While each patient’s condition is individual, says Dr. Muh, for some types of epilepsy, up to 80% of those receiving ablation have seen a significant decrease in their seizures. “For a long time, many patients with epilepsy were treated with medicine alone, and there was concern about the risks of surgery,” she says. “Now, recent studies have found these new procedures to be safe and effective for appropriate patients.”
Dr. Muh recommends that patients be evaluated at a Level 4 Epilepsy Center, such as Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, to take advantage of the new minimally invasive procedures now available.
Now, Amia looks forward to doing activities that she wasn’t able to before, like swimming, biking, gymnastics and even light boxing — a new activity she has recently taken up with her father.
Both Amia and her mom praised the care she received at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. “Dr. Muh answered most of my questions before I asked them and helped me sort out the different options. And when I was scared of going under anesthesia, she held my hand until I was out,” says Amia. Adds Ashford, “Not only did they give Amia excellent care, they offered me great support, as well.”
Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital has been accredited as a Level 4 Epilepsy Center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers.
This distinction reflects the highest level of medical and surgical evaluation, as well as treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.
WHAT TO EXPECT: LASER ABLATION
Performed under general anesthesia, this typically hour-long procedure uses a computer-guided laser to target and destroy the previously identified abnormal brain tissue causing the seizures. Amia was in the hospital four days post-op and was able to return to school in 10 days. Six weeks after the surgery, she was seizure-free. Amia continues to see Dr. Wolf, who will slowly wean her off her medication, a process that can take approximately a year.
The Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is a 1,700-bed healthcare system headquartered in Valhalla, New York, with 10 hospitals on eight campuses spanning 6,200 square miles of the Hudson Valley. WMCHealth employs more than 13,000 people and has nearly 3,000 attending physicians. The Network has Level 1, Level 2 and Pediatric Trauma Centers, the region’s only acute care children’s hospital, an academic medical center, Primary and Comprehensive Stroke Centers, several community hospitals, dozens of specialized institutes and centers, skilled nursing, assisted living facilities, homecare services and one of the largest mental health systems in New York State. Today, WMCHealth is the pre-eminent provider of integrated healthcare in the Hudson Valley. For more information about WMCHealth, visit WMCHealth.org.