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New treatment offers help for tricky to reach tumors

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POSTED: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 8:00am

UPDATED: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 8:02am

Jessie Fernandez is the first child in south Florida to undergo a groundbreaking laser procedure for seizures.

"Sometimes I was just in class and I was doing work and I would fall, and I had to get pulled out of class and they'd call the rescue, and it distracted me a lot in my life," the 12-year-old recounted.

Her mother says Jessie sometimes would have three seizures a day.

The cause was a brain tumor that had to be removed.

"Conventional surgery involves craniotomy, which means putting an incision through the skin, removing a piece of the bone, much like the top of a pumpkin in a jack-o-lantern," explained Dr. Ian Miller of the Brain Institute at Miami Children's Hospital.

In the new approach a computerized navigation system using MRI scans guides the neurosurgeon to precisely burn away the problem area with a laser.

Miami Children's is the only pediatric hospital in Florida using the Visualase system.

"This new technology allows us to treat lesions in the brain, a spot in the brain by making a tiny opening in the skull and in the skin," said Dr. John Ragheb, the chief of pediatric neurosurgery.

He was holding a fiber the width of a strand of spaghetti.

"It's this tiny fiber that does the treatment and this is the only thing that goes into the head," Ragheb said.

The scan taken after the procedure shows the tumor is gone.

"This is no longer present, there's no more risk of recurrence or growth, and most importantly it's not causing seizures," Miller said.

Jessie Fernandez had the procedure 11 months ago, left the hospital the next day, and has been seizure-free since then.

"I felt scared because I was the first one and I didn't know what could go wrong, but at the end everything turned out fine," she said.

Only two other children have been treated with Visualase at Miami Children's Hospital.

Their cases were more complicated and while they experienced improvement, they did not get complete control of their seizures.

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