Virtual pediatric lecture series: Minimally invasive surgery for craniosynostosis

CHOC’s virtual pediatric lecture series continues with “Minimally invasive surgery for craniosynostosis.

This online discussion will be held Thursday, Jan. 14 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and is designed for general practitioners, family practitioners and other healthcare providers.

Dr. Suresh Magge, medical director of neurosurgery and co-medical director of the CHOC Neuroscience Institute, will discuss several topics, including:

  • Diagnosing craniosynostosis and differentiating craniosynostosis from plagiocephaly.
  • Recognizing the early signs of craniosynostosis and understanding when to refer a patient to a neurosurgeon.
  • Differentiating open versus minimally invasive treatment of craniosynostosis.
Dr. Suresh Magge, medical director of neurosurgery and co-medical director of the CHOC Neuroscience Institute

This virtual lecture is part of a series provided by CHOC that aims to bring the latest, most relevant news to community providers. You can register here.

CHOC is accredited by the California Medical Association (CMA) to provide continuing medical education for physicians and has designated this live activity for a maximum of one AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™. Continuing Medical Education is also acceptable for meeting RN continuing education requirements, as long as the course is Category 1, and has been taken within the appropriate time frames.

Please contact CHOC Business Development at 714-509-4291 or BDINFO@choc.org with any questions.

MRI-Guided Laser Ablation with Stereotactic Assistance Targets Epilepsy, Tumors

Laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT), or laser ablation, is among the latest advancements in minimally invasive neurosurgery, allowing surgeons to reach difficult areas of the brain — and offering less risk to patients at the same time.

“Instead of performing a craniotomy, which entails making a large incision and opening up the skull, we place a probe through a small hole in the skull a few millimeters in diameter,” says Dr. Joffre Olaya, pediatric neurosurgeon at CHOC. “Then, under MRI visualization, we deliver heat to the specific area, which destroys the abnormal tissue. Laser ablation is especially useful in patients with small seizure foci or tumors, particularly if they are deep.”

Dr. Joffre Olaya, pediatric neurosurgeon at CHOC

The benefits this minimally invasive approach provides to patients are especially welcoming. “For a craniotomy, patients will be in the hospital for three to five days, in the ICU most likely for a day or two, and they’ll experience discomfort from the skin and muscles on the head,” Dr. Olaya says. “With laser ablation, patients typically go home within a day or two and recover pretty quickly. They also experience less blood loss, pain and side effects overall. Also, laser ablation doesn’t prevent patients from having another procedure. If the tumor is still growing or the seizures are still continuing after ablation, I can go back and perform another laser ablation or a craniotomy.”

To increase surgical precision and accuracy when ablating brain tumors, deep lesions and tissue in the brain where seizures occur, Dr. Olaya employs a ROSA™ (robotic stereotactic assistance) robot.

“We obtain preoperative imaging studies and load those into the ROSA system, which allows us to plan the entry point and trajectory so we can precisely place the laser. This precision helps us to not only locate and effectively ablate our target, but avoid hitting blood vessels or causing unintended damage to surrounding tissues,” Dr. Olaya says. “We were the first pediatric center on the West Coast to have this technology. We use ROSA for multiple conditions, including patients with epilepsy and oncology patients with tumors.”

ROSA’s precision also helps minimize some risks commonly associated with surgery. “ROSA is an amazing tool that yields many benefits for our patients, including less time under anesthesia in the operating room,” Dr. Olaya says. “It also reduces blood loss and risk of infections.”

Although CHOC is at the forefront utilizing the latest technologies to best treat its patients in a minimally invasive manner when possible, Dr. Olaya says CHOC’s team approach to patient care is what sets it apart from other centers in the region.

“I’m really excited that CHOC is investing in this newer technology and it’s available here to provide to our patients, but our team mentality and how well we work together is crucial. Our epileptologists, radiologists, neuropsychologists, all of us really work well together as a team to identify the best candidates for this technology and to provide the best outcomes for our patients.”

Our Care and Commitment to Children Has Been Recognized

CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the neurology/neurosurgery specialty.

Learn how CHOC’s neuroscience expertise, coordinated care, innovative programs and specialized treatments preserve childhood for children in Orange County, Calif., and beyond.

Multi-Focus Seizures Complicate Surgical Treatment for Pediatric Epilepsy Case

During Celeste’s pregnancy, an ultrasound showed that her baby had heart abnormalities. Once baby Jaylynn was born, further diagnostic evaluation confirmed she had tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a disorder that causes growths in multiple organs, including the heart, brain, kidneys and lungs. TSC is a genetic disorder, and patients with this condition are known to have a high seizure burden.

In the days after her birth, the right side of Jaylynn’s body seemed to twitch, and Celeste’s instincts told her Jaylynn was having seizures. Celeste mentioned this to her nurse at the hospital where Jaylynn was born, but her worries were dismissed. After being sent home, Celeste called CHOC and met with Dr. Lily Tran, a pediatric epileptologist at CHOC’s level 4 pediatric epilepsy center.

Over the next three years, Jaylynn tried several different treatment options, including medications, ketogenic diet and steroid treatment. Most treatments followed the same pattern: the seizures would stop for a few months, but then come back stronger than before. She regressed significantly in terms of development, no longer made eye contact, could not sit up even with support and was lethargic all day due to the high seizure burden. She started losing weight and had to have a G-tube placed for adequate nutrition. Her medication regimen was at high doses to control seizures, which led to side effects, such as vomiting and lethargy, which impacted her quality of life significantly. Her days consisted of seizures, vomiting and sleep. At that point, Celeste said her family was simply trying to survive.

“Jaylynn’s refractory case of epilepsy was quite complex because we couldn’t pinpoint where her seizures were coming from based on Phase I surface EEG monitoring,” says Dr. Tran. “We used several different imaging techniques to locate the focus of her seizures, including a virtual reality simulation program. Through these tests and Phase II invasive EEG monitoring, we found her seizures were coming from the left side of her brain, but on this one side, we then found the seizures were coming from three distinct areas. Her case was discussed extensively at our comprehensive epilepsy surgery conference, but there was no clear-cut answer and consensus on what to do next. Each approach had various pros and cons, and each option had questions and concerns. As a team, we constantly asked ourselves, ‘What’s best for Jaylynn?’ when considering these treatment options. Mom was updated at every step of the way so she could make the most informed decision for her daughter.”

Because the seizure focus came from three different areas in the left hemisphere, it was not reasonable to resect these regions separately without significantly more post-operative side effects. Dr. Tran elected to proceed with a functional hemispherectomy to give Jaylynn the best outcome for seizure control and to turn her quality of life around. The procedure essentially “quieted down” the electrical activity in the left side of her brain.

“For Jaylynn, I used everything I learned in fellowship, consulted with other colleagues and leveraged the tools we have at CHOC — such as our ability to perform invasive surgery and our research capabilities — to determine the best course of treatment for this complex epilepsy case. When you have a multidisciplinary team like ours that includes a dedicated neurosurgeon, neuroradiologists, neuropsychologists, educated nurses, EEG technologists, epilepsy pharmacists, social workers and parent champions who work cohesively together, it helps make the patient’s journey a little bit easier.”

Today, Jaylynn is seizure-free and on fewer medications. She is now laughing and smiling, more interactive, enrolled in school and even got to visit Disney World.

“What makes CHOC different from similar centers, I think, is our focus on the patient journey and how we value the quality of life for each patient,” says Dr. Tran. “We treat every child and their family as a whole unit. When you come to CHOC, you’re not just our patient. You truly become part of our family.”

Our Care and Commitment to Children Has Been Recognized

CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the neurology/neurosurgery specialty.

Learn how CHOC’s neuroscience expertise, coordinated care, innovative programs and specialized treatments preserve childhood for children in Orange County, Calif., and beyond.

The transition from child to adult care must start early with education, pediatric neurologist emphasizes

Navigating from child to young adult can be very challenging in the best of circumstances.

Add a chronic or rare medical condition to the journey, and the process can get very scary.

Teens with chronic conditions face a higher risk of non-adherence to taking their medication or even obtaining it when transitioning from a pediatric to adult primary care provider, medical experts say. And statistically, the chance of them having to be admitted into an ER or have surgery increases, as does the prospect of them dropping out of treatment – which could have fatal results.

Dr. Mary L. Zupanc, co-medical director of CHOC’s Neuroscience Institute and a pediatric neurologist who specializes in epilepsy and rare conditions, stressed in a recent webinar that she’s passionate about preventing patients transitioning to adult care from falling through the cracks.

Dr. Mary L. Zupanc, co-medical director of CHOC’s Neuroscience Institute

“We begin with introducing the concept of transitioning to adult care when our patients are 12 years old,” Dr. Zupanc said while speaking on a four-person panel hosted by Global Genes, an Aliso Viejo-based non-profit that advocates for the rare disease community.

The topic of the 50-minute discussion on Sept. 24, 2020 was “Navigating the Transition of Care for Young Adult Patients.”

In addition to her position at CHOC and as a faculty member at UC Irvine, Dr. Zupanc sits on the board of directors of the Child Neurology Foundation (CNF) in Minneapolis, Minn. On its website, the CNF details several resources about transitioning to adult care.

“We at CHOC have followed the CNF’s template to develop a formal transitioning program here,” Dr. Zupanc said.

Starting the conversation with families when a patient is 12 years old may seem too early, Dr. Zupanc said. But transitioning is a process that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, and it’s critical to start the discussion when patients are young.

The other panelists agreed. They were Dr. Leah Ratner, a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; Sneha Dave, 22, a student at Indiana University who since age 6 has lived with ulcerative colitis; and moderator Amy Ohmer, director of the International Children’s Advisory Network in Marietta, Ga., and the mother of two daughters, ages 17 and 19, who have chronic and rare conditions.

“I think it’s important to introduce the concept (of transitioning) early – to let the parents and patient know, ‘We’re not just going to throw you out,’” Dr. Zupanc said. “Rather, ‘We’re going to work with you so you can learn to self-manage your disease and your medications. And we’re going to go over your plan on a yearly or bi-annual basis.’”

Under the transitioning plan adopted by CHOC thanks to a grant, a healthcare transition program is initiated when patients turn 12 years of age.

Clinicians, social workers, and others continue to prepare their patients and their families for increased independence and management of their care, as well as to the adult model of care, Dr. Zupanc explained.

The actual transition to adult care varies from 18 to 22 years of age—often dependent on insurance—and ideally occurs in stages, as these young adults may have multiple subspecialists. Between the ages of 23 and 26 years, the young adults are integrated into adult care.

“It’s a partnership,” Dr. Zupanc said. “It takes a community.”

Sneha, the Indiana University student, said the transition must go slow because there are so many components to it, such as having to navigate health insurance.

“Young adults diagnosed with a condition at childhood tend not to be as prepared because their parents or guardians took care of everything and they had no ownership of their own care,” Sneha said.

When she was a freshman, Sneha founded the Health Advocacy Summit, which empowers young adults with chronic and rare diseases through advocacy events and programs. In August 2020, the organization hosted an international virtual summit.

“It’s a process,” Dr. Zupanc agreed of transitioning to adult care. “And I think it’s a process of self-empowerment. Most parents are used to taking care of everything. We try to empower our teenager and young adults as much as possible. Parents have to let go at some point, but it’s a process.”

The bulk of Dr. Zupanc’s patients have severe epilepsy that started in infancy. A high percentage also have intellectual disabilities.

“Sometimes they take a step forward and two steps back,” she said.

The path toward a successful transition to adult care begins with knowledge, she explained, followed by support, confidence and, finally, independence.

Dr. Zupanc noted that patients who leave CHOC are welcomed to stay in touch.

“As a pediatric provider for children with rare diseases,” she said, “I let my families and adolescents know that I have their backs and that I’m not going to let them fall into the abyss. If there are issues, I’m here to help them.”

November is epilepsy awareness month. To learn more about CHOC’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, click here.

In the spotlight: Dr. Suresh Magge

CHOC is excited to welcome pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Suresh Magge as co-medical director of the CHOC Neuroscience Institute and neurosurgery medical director for CHOC, bringing a wealth of expertise that will continue to advance the institute as a leading destination for care.

Dr. Magge will bring clinical experience, innovation and the latest techniques to CHOC, following an 11-year tenure at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he started the medical center’s neurosurgery fellowship training program and was the director of medical student education in pediatric neurosurgery.

“My approach is to meld the latest in clinical medicine and research to find the best treatment for each child,” Dr. Magge says. “I always try to use a patient-centered approach, using precision medicine to perform the most minimally-invasive surgery possible.”

 Dr. Suresh Magge, co-medical director of the CHOC Neuroscience Institute and neurosurgery medical director

While Dr. Magge has a wide-ranging clinical practice, his special clinical and research interests include brain and spinal tumors, especially diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas; minimally invasive craniosynostosis surgery; and pediatric neurovascular disease, including arteriovenous malformation and Moyamoya disease.

Craniosynostosis refers to the premature fusion of the skull, causing problems with skull growth. During his time at Children’s National Hospital, Dr. Magge started the region’s first minimally invasive craniosynostosis program – something he is looking forward to expanding at CHOC.

“This condition used to require a large surgery in which the surgeon would take apart the skull and put it back together,” Dr. Magge says. “Kids generally do well after the surgery, but it is quite invasive. Now we can do a less invasive surgery that uses minimally invasive techniques that is shorter, involves less blood loss, and quicker surgical recovery. This is an alternative that I’m excited to expand here.”

He also looks forward to contributing to the growth of CHOC’s brain tumor program, neurovascular program, epilepsy program, robotic surgeries and more.

Even as a child, Dr. Magge was fascinated with science. He loved everything from chemistry to biology, but it was ultimately the concept of using science to help people that drew him to medicine.

After graduating from Harvard Medical School, during which he completed the Howard Hughes Research Fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Magge completed his residency in neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania.

He found that pediatric neurosurgery was his life’s calling, and he then completed a fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. He has since been in practice at Children’s National Hospital before coming to CHOC.

“Neurosurgery has advanced tremendously over the years through research and innovation,” he says. “Through surgery, we can alleviate suffering and have a significant impact on the lives of children.”

Pediatric neurosurgery allows Dr. Magge to combine his love of science with helping children and families through their toughest times.  

“When parents hear that their child needs neurosurgery, it’s a very traumatic time,” he says. “We try to take a personalized approach and take parents through this process in the most compassionate way possible.”

Dr. Magge is excited about the growth of CHOC’s neurosurgery division and neuroscience institute. He says that the strength of the Neuroscience Institute comes from the collaboration of different neurological providers within one institute.

He joins an expert team of neurosurgeons, including Dr. Michael Muhonen, former co-medical director of the Neuroscience and former neurosurgery medical director, whose numerous contributions in the role made an invaluable impact on children and families. Dr. Muhonen will remain in active clinical practice at CHOC, with an increased focus on hydrocephalus clinical care, research and new technology design.  

The neurosurgery division also includes Dr. William Loudon, who has years of experience in pediatric neurosurgery and brain tumor research, and Dr. Joffre Olaya, who specializes in epilepsy and functional neurosurgery. 

“We have four highly trained, highly respected pediatric neurosurgeons with many years of experience,” Dr. Magge says. “Each surgeon brings a wealth of experience and a personalized approach.”

Dr. Magge plans to advance the path of the Neuroscience Institute toward becoming a world-class destination for neurological care. He plans to expand neuroscience research programs, saying that the ultimate goal is to cure neurologic disease through research, as well as to educate future pediatric neurosurgeons in partnership with UC Irvine.

Further, Dr. Magge’s appointment coincides with significant infrastructure changes underway at the Neuroscience Institute: CHOC recently opened its new state-of-the-art outpatient center, establishing a clinical hub for caregivers to serve patients and families in a centralized location. Additionally, plans are underway to expand the hospital’s inpatient neuroscience unit.

Throughout Dr. Magge’s years of neurosurgery, he has learned about resiliency from his patients. “I am constantly inspired by the strength and perseverance that patients and families show in the face of adversity.”

A parent himself, Dr. Magge enjoys spending time with his wife and two young sons. Together, they ride bikes, play sports, hike and travel – especially to national parks. A competitive tennis player growing up, he still likes to play tennis when he can and also enjoys dabbling in photography.

Learn more about the CHOC Neuroscience Institute.