When Andrew Najar had his first full body seizure at age 12, neither he nor his parents had any idea the involuntary laughing spells he’d been having his whole life were also seizures. That big seizure alerted doctors to the fact that Andrew had been living with a rare brain tumour. The tumour was a Hypothalamic Hamartoma, and while it wasn’t cancerous, it was putting Andrew’s quality of life at risk.
Andrew was prescribed medication that stopped the major seizures. However, he continued to be plagued with laughing outbursts or gelastic seizures — sometimes a dozen a day. The episodes left him tired and nervous, never knowing when he might experience another one. He didn’t like to present in front of his class and knew he was missing out on things his friends were doing, like learning to drive.
While conventional surgery was discussed as a potential treatment, open procedures come with a 25-50% chance of impacting vital brain functions. In Andrew’s case, any attempt to remove the lesion from his brain meant operating within 6-8 millimetres of his pituitary gland and memory centre. His family decided against surgery at that time, optimistic that something better was on the horizon. That “something” was Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT), and little did the Najar family know that people in our community were already donating so generously to make LITT a reality.
LITT would allow his surgeon to target Andrew’s seizures with less than a millimetre accuracy and safely eradicate the lesion with no harm to his brain. To Andrew and his parents, this was the answer they’d been hoping for. Thanks to community donations, LITT arrived in Calgary in early 2020 and is helping both children and adult patients in Canada’s first Epilepsy Surgery Brain Suite at Foothills Hospital.
On the eve of his 18th birthday, Andrew underwent his LITT procedure and became the second kid in Western Canada with a Hypothalamic Hamartoma to benefit. He can now plan for things he never thought possible, like driving a car. His family is forever grateful for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the community support that made Andrew’s life-changing surgery possible.
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