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Young boy cured of seizures and back to his energetic life

Picture of Charlie Crawmer with parents, Brian and Sarah Crawmer, following his laser ablation surgery. Photo courtesy of Sarah Crawmer.
Charlie Crawmer with his parents, Brian and Sarah Crawmer, following his laser ablation surgery. Photo courtesy of Sarah Crawmer.
Picture of Charlie Crawmer with Nitin Tandon, MD. Photo courtesy of Sarah Crawmer.
Charlie Crawmer continues to visit Nitin Tandon, MD for regular checkups. Photo courtesy of Sarah Crawmer.
Photo of Charlie Crawmer in his baseball uniform. Photo courtesy of Sarah Crawmer.
Charlie Crawmer is back to playing baseball now that he is seizure free. Photo courtesy of Sarah Crawmer.

Imagine being a healthy kid enjoying all sorts of energetic activities – swimming, riding your bicycle, and playing baseball – and then having all of that ripped away because of seizures. That is exactly what happened to 6-year-old Charlie Crawmer of Houston.

Fortunately, Charlie found a neurosurgeon with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) who could help him get it all back.

In November 2018, Charlie developed complex partial seizures out of the blue and was not responding to medication prescribed by a neurologist in Houston.  When these seizures would happen, Charlie would become unaware of his surroundings and unable to control his movements.

In 2019, Charlie’s parents, Brian and Sarah Crawmer, visited a second neurologist for another opinion. That neurologist ordered a scan that revealed a mass on his thalamus, a part of the brain that lies just above the brain stem, and connects brain signals from the cerebral cortex to the midbrain.

But his physicians were not able to determine whether the lesion on the thalamus and the seizures were connected and tried without success to control his seizures, which were occurring several times a day, even with medication.

It came to a head in January 2020 when Charlie suffered yet another seizure while Sarah was tucking him into bed. As with previous seizures, they called 911, but after observation in the emergency room, they were sent home and told that Charlie was dehydrated and needed a sports beverage.

With all of the different medications Charlie had been put on and the back and forth between different doctors’ offices and the emergency room, Sarah was sure there had to be something else behind Charlie's continued seizures.

“It just didn’t sit right with me. We don’t have any history of seizures in our family so I wanted more testing,” Sarah said.

That’s where Nitin Tandon, MD, professor and vice chair of neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth who sees patients at UTHealth Neurosciences, comes into Charlie’s story.

Tandon ordered an extended electroencephalogram that determined the lesion on Charlie’s thalamus was a low-grade tumor that had continued to grow and was the cause of Charlie’s ongoing seizures.

“Tumors on the thalamus aren’t usually considered to be capable of causing seizures because of the makeup of the brain cells located there, but some tumors such as Charlie’s have abnormal cells that allow seizures to occur,” Tandon said. “I think this is one of the reasons why other doctors might have not been able to connect the dots on what was causing him to continue to have seizures. Charlie’s case might help us better understand how the thalamus functions.”

Dr. Tandon performed a laser ablation surgery, placing a laser fiber inside the tumor via a 4-millimeter incision through the skin. Temperature maps and real-time damage models were then used to allow him to apply lethal temperatures to the lesion in Charlie’s brain while avoiding potential damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. This type of surgery is considered far less invasive than traditional methods which typically involve a craniotomy, the surgical removal of part of the skull. Since the surgery Charlie has been completely seizure-free.

“We are pioneers in this type of surgery so I felt very comfortable performing it,” said Tandon, who has performed over 125 laser ablations.

Thanks to Tandon, Charlie, now age 8, can once again be a normal boy doing all the things boys do.

“Dr. Tandon is the most amazing person. Charlie is a walking miracle and God led him to Dr. Tandon. There are just so many things that could have happened if we didn’t get to the right diagnosis or find the right doctor. Now when I hear of anyone who has any type of brain disorder I tell them, ‘You have to go see Dr. Tandon!’” Sarah said.

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