Patient follows internationally renowned neurologist to Virtua
To Kaitlyn Munshower, it feels as though something is taking over her body, like she’s dying.
Kaitlyn’s descent into illness started one ordinary day in high school. First, she felt an unusual sensation in her abdomen. Then her right arm mysteriously shot skyward. Thirty minutes later, she was convulsing on the ground, unconscious. Kaitlyn was having her first seizure.
A mysterious case of epilepsy
Kaitlyn was rushed to a nearby hospital emergency room where she was diagnosed with epilepsy, a disease that affects 2.7 million people in the United States. “Epilepsy is caused by brief, repeated episodes of abnormal brain activity,” says Andro Zangaladze, MD, PhD, director of Virtua Neurosciences and epilepsy specialist. “There are many types of epilepsy with varying causes, seizure presentations and responses to treatment.”
At the hospital, Kaitlyn had repeated seizures. The doctors could not stop the electrical storm in her brain, putting her life in danger. She was having clonic-tonic seizures — formerly known as grand mal seizures — the most serious type and what most people imagine when they think of epilepsy. Eventually, the hospital neurologist stabilized Kaitlyn with medication. And although the cause of the epilepsy was not known, Kaitlyn and her family were relieved, believing that the worst was behind them. They were mistaken.
When Kaitlyn returned to school, the seizure-stopping medication caused her to suffer from nausea, fatigue and concentration problems. To alleviate these symptoms, Kaitlyn’s medication was once again changed. It was a disaster: Kaitlyn lost her vision and started to have uncontrollable seizures that threatened her life.
That’s when she met Dr. Zangaladze, a renowned epilepsy specialist. Based on his vast knowledge of the disease, Dr. Zangaladze assessed that Kaitlyn had an extremely rare genetic mutation causing the seizures. However, at the time, no test was available through conventional laboratories to confirm his suspicions.
When treating epilepsy, knowing the cause helps significantly. Giving the right medication for the right kind of epilepsy is critical to stopping the seizures and preventing further damage.
“But determining the cause is often problematic because of the brain’s complexity,” says Dr. Zangaladze. Armed with his clinical insight and experience, Dr. Zangaladze successfully controlled Kaitlyn’s seizures.
A theory confirmed
Two years after he first saw Kaitlyn, Dr. Zangaladze, now leading Virtua’s neurosciences program, confirmed his theory about Kaitlyn’s illness with a genetic test. Finally, Kaitlyn and her family have a definitive answer. Kaitlyn’s family is eternally grateful that she is in Dr. Zangaladze’s care. Her mother says: “It takes vast knowledge to manage Kaitlyn’s case.” Kaitlyn’s epilepsy is now under control, and the family travels regularly from northeastern Pennsylvania to Virtua to receive the highest level of treatment from Dr. Zangaladze.