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Infantile Spasms

DMC Pediatric Specialists help an infant plagued with near-constant seizures.

One minute, 13-month old TJ Cunningham of Dublin, Ireland, was fine. The next, his head suddenly dropped and hit the tray on his highchair. His parents, Leah and Tony, had no idea what was wrong with their son.


They took him to a doctor, who diagnoses it a “habit” possibly picked up from other kids, or created on his own. Leah and Tony wanted to believe that there was nothing seriously wrong, but started researching on the internet. They came across something called infantile spasms, which seemed to fit TJ’s symptoms.


Leah and Tony took a video of TJ during one of his episodes, showing the boy’s head dipping and his arms jerking out at his sides. They took it to his doctor, who referred them to a neurologist. It appeared they were correct.


Infantile spasms are a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy found in children in their first year. It’s considered a neurologic emergency, and quick treatment is necessary to decrease the risk of permanent brain damage. TJ was put on medication to try and stop the seizures.


The medications made him weaker and sicker, and he was having over 200 seizures a day. He gained excess weight, and couldn’t sleep properly for months. For months, doctors in Ireland tried a variety of medications to control the problem. Tony and Leah kept searching for the right doctor to help, and eventually came upon Dr. Harry Chugani, head of Pediatric Neurology at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan. He’s spent 30 years researching and treating infantile spasms.


Shortly after, with the assistance of DMC’s International Services department, Leah, Tony and TJ traveled from Ireland to Detroit to TJ could be evaluated by Dr. Chugani and his team.


“TJ’s diagnosis was intractable epilepsy, meaning he had failed to respond to medication,” says Dr. Chugani. “WE care for about 50 children a year with seizures that are out of control, with very, very good results. More than 80 percent of our cases become seizure-free.”


After testing, Dr. Chugani and his colleagues decided that TJ should undergo a two-stage surgery. The first stage is intracranial EEG, where electrodes are placed on the brain to determine where the seizures are coming from. The data was analyzed by Dr. Eishi Asano, Medical Director of the Neurodiagnostic department at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Dr. Asano found that most of the right hemisphere of TJ’s brain was involved in causing the seizures.


Next, Neurosurgeon Dr. Sandeep Sood performed a surgery to remove part of TJ’s brain. “At that age, it’s devastating for the brain to have so many seizures. And to get rid of the seizures we have to remove all the abnormal tissue causing them. If we leave even a small part, the seizures can still reoccur.”


Once the seizures stop, and the remainder of the brain is not being bombarded with electrical activity, it begins to re-organize – this is especially true in a child’s brain.


When TJ woke up from his surgery, his parents were amazed – after nine months of seizures every few minutes, he was resting peacefully. It has been eight months since the surgery, and TJ remains seizure-free. He has learned to clap, kiss, wave, bounce and dance. He runs, plays with his toys, and explores his world.


“Without Dr. Chugani, and Dr. Sood and Dr. Ansano – the whole team – TJ wouldn’t be where he is today.”


Find a DMC Pediatric Specialist by calling 888-DMC-2500.

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Children's Hospital of Michigan
Harry Chugani M.D.(Request Appointment)
Chief, Pediatric Neurology and Developmental Pediatrics Director of PET Center
Professor of Pediatrics, Neurology and Radiology
CLINICAL INTERESTS: Epilepsy, Tourette Syndrome
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Brain Development, Brain Plasticity
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Neurology
EDUCATION/TRAINING: UCLA Medical Center, Fellowship in Nuclear Medicine, 1992
Georgetown University, Fellowship in Neurology, 1982
Georgetown University, Residency in Neurology, 1981
Georgetown University, Residency in Pediatrics 1981
Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, 1977
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