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, as well as CHOC Specialists, 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.

Wired for hope: deep brain stimulation for dystonia

Every morning when she awakes, Sydney Amato begins her daily battle with her body.

If she’s lucky, the 16-year-old will have gotten a handful of hours of uninterrupted sleep – dreaming, perhaps, of doing what most healthy kids her age take for granted:

Hanging out with friends. Going to school. Learning to drive.

Because of a neurological condition called dystonia, Sydney, who is in excellent cognitive health but speaks and walks with some difficulty, suffers from involuntary and near-constant contraction of muscles in her neck, arms, legs and trunk.

Sydney with her father, Louis

Her mind is unable to control the painful jerking that makes most of her body twist and go rigid, her muscles moving out of normal sequence.

Born a right-hander, she can feed herself with some struggle using her left hand. She wants to dress and put on makeup herself, but those normally simple tasks become lengthy ordeals.

“My body fights me all the time,” says Sydney, trying to distract herself in her hospital bed by watching an old episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Listening to her favorite music – Ariana Grande, Lauren Daigle, Drake – can only temporarily transport Sydney away from her debilitating condition.

“She knows what she wants to do,” says her father, Louis. “But her body won’t let her.”

Specialists at CHOC Children’s are working hard to change that.

A first for CHOC

On Aug. 14, 2020, a team led by Dr. Terence Sanger, a physician, engineer, and computational neuroscientist who joined CHOC in January 2020 as its first chief scientific officer, and Dr. Joffre E. Olaya, CHOC’s functional restorative neurosurgeon, implanted several temporary electrodes into Sydney’s brain.

Dr. Terence Sanger, a physician, engineer, and computational neuroscientist and CHOC’s chief scientific officer

The surgery marked the first time a patient with a movement disorder at CHOC underwent a procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS).

Working in perfect harmony as a team, Dr. Sanger and Dr. Olaya performed the first stage of a three-stage surgery on Sydney. As the surgeon, Dr. Olaya placed the leads following advice from Dr. Sanger, the neurologist, where they should go.

In the procedure, millimeter-thick electrodes were precisely positioned into the basal ganglia region of Sydney’s brain – about three inches deep. The surgery involved the use of the ROSA Robot, the same tool that has been used during brain surgery on epilepsy patients at CHOC since 2015.

Dr. Joffre E. Olaya, CHOC pediatric neurosurgeon

Considered one of the most advanced robotized surgical assistants, ROSA includes a computer system and a robotic arm. It’s a minimally invasive surgical tool that improves accuracy and significantly reduces surgery/anesthesia time.

The ROSA Robot helped with implanting and targeting the electrodes, and a portable operating-room CT scanner confirmed their position.

Turning down the volume

DBS is designed to ease Sydney’s condition by sending electrical currents to jam her malfunctioning brain signals.

Think of turning down the volume on your car radio.

“Nobody really understands the cause of dystonia,” Dr. Sanger explains, “but there’s probably too much electrical stimulation going on in the motor areas of the brain. We’re trying to calm down that extra noise.”

Although DBS dates to the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the modern era of using it to treat adult patients with tremor and Parkinson’s disease began.

In 2000, Dr. Sanger, working with engineers, data scientists, neurosurgeons, and others, began implanting electrodes in pediatric patients.

Instead of the established method of placing the leads at predetermined sites and hoping they worked, Sanger and his team, just as they did in Sydney’s case, placed temporary leads to best assess where they should go permanently based on patient response.

In 2016, Dr. Sanger began honing DBS to treat children with dystonia. Before the surgery on Sydney, Dr. Sanger had performed DBS on 26 children using the same three-stage technique. He says 80 percent of those children have seen successful results.

Early signs

Sydney began showing symptoms of dystonia – tremors in her hands — when she was 5 ½ years old.

A year later, she was using a wheelchair. She had her first brain surgery at age 7.

Since then, “she’s been all over the U.S.” seeking the right treatment for her condition after several setbacks, says her father.

But her condition was not improving.

Early this year, a neurologist in Kansas City, Mo., recommended that Sydney see Dr. Sanger.

“I asked him, ‘If Sydney was your kid, where would you go?’ Louis Amato recalls. “He said, ‘Hands down, Dr. Sanger.’”

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed Sydney’s surgery to mid-August.

Sydney already had two electrodes in her brain that were only partially working when she came to CHOC in early August for surgery.

After two extensive run-throughs with their team, Dr. Sanger and Dr. Olaya, in a six-hour procedure that at one point had nearly 20 people in the operating room, implanted more electrodes to give her a total of nine.

On Thursday, Aug. 20, six days after Sydney’s surgery, Dr. Sanger stopped by her room at CHOC Children’s Hospital. The room was decorated in purple, Sydney’s favorite color.

Dr. Sanger greeted her as CHOC staff members, joined by members of Sanger Lab, which conducts research in pediatric movement disorders, prepared to have Sydney walk back and forth down a hallway while connected to electrical equipment programmed to record signals in her brain and muscles.

A thick coil of multicolored wires snaked from under a large white bandage covering Sydney’s head. Extending about 6 feet, the wires were plugged into specialized recording equipment controlled by Jennifer MacLean, a pediatric nurse practitioner whose job was to manipulate the strength of electrical charges affecting the four points of contact on each electrode.

The goal: determine which charges worked best and on which electrodes.

“It could have turned out that the DBS procedure made no difference,” Dr. Sanger says. “But we’ve seen a very good response in Sydney.”

For example, her once mostly useless right hand was working much better.

“It gives you goosebumps,” Louis Amato says.

After taking a bite of a veggie burger and sipping some water, Sydney started to walk.

Following her were seven CHOC and Sanger Lab specialists.

“Go nice and slowly,” Jennifer told Sydney. “You’re going too fast for us!”

Perhaps Sydney was anxious to get back to riding Tigger, a quarter horse, in her hometown of Carthage, Mo. She has been riding him for six months.

Sydney is eager to get back to riding her favorite horse, Tigger.

“Her balance isn’t bad on the horse,” says Louis Amato.

Sydney also loves to tan by her pool and swim.

What she wants most, however, is to be freed from her body so she can return to school and do what most teens enjoy.

“It’s stressful,” says her mother, Angie. “She has a lot of friends her age, but she can’t do a lot of the things they do. She has her days when she can get really upset.”

Now, however, working with Dr. Sanger, Dr. Olaya and the entire team at CHOC, the Amatos are more optimistic than ever.

“We’re hopeful that this is going to be a big life-changer for her,” Angie Amato says. “That would be the best thing that could ever happen – better than winning the lottery.”

‘The A Team’

After crunching numbers for a week to assess which of the nine electrodes proved to be the most effective based on how Sydney responded to varying degrees of electrical currents, Dr. Sanger and his team settled on four electrodes that were permanently used to treat her condition – three new ones, and one existing one.

The team performed this second surgery on Sydney in late August.

In the third and final surgery, successfully completed in early September, a rechargeable generator that powers the DBS leads was implanted in Sydney’s chest.

“As we get better and better at this,” says Dr. Sanger, “and as the technology progresses, we’ll be able to do this on kids who are less sick than Sydney.”

Dr. Sanger and Dr. Olaya are poised to dramatically improve the lives of many more patients like Sydney at CHOC.

“I’m really excited that we will be doing more of these procedures to help pediatric patients with movement disorders and significantly improve their quality of life,” says Dr. Olaya. “I look forward to continuing to provide this type of personalized care.”

Angie and Louis Amato say Sydney has never gotten this much special attention during her 11-year-plus medical journey.

“Here at CHOC,” Louis Amato says, “we feel like we’re with the A Team.”

Says Sydney: “I’ve never felt this much confidence and this good about treatment before.”

Learn more about deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery at CHOC.

CHOC Experts to Speak at International Hydrocephalus Conference

Two CHOC Children’s pediatric neurology experts will speak at an upcoming conference featuring the latest education on hydrocephalus.

Including internationally recognized medical professionals and researchers, HA Connect – National Conference on Hydrocephalus, held June 28-30 in Newport Beach, will address the medical, educational and social complexities of living with hydrocephalus through interactive discussions, workshops and hands-on exhibits.  Over 500 people are expected to attend the international conference.

Dr. Michael Muhonen

Dr. Michael Muhonen, board-certified neurosurgeon, division chief of neurosurgery and medical director, CHOC Neuroscience Institute, will present a lecture on the anatomy of the brain, with a focus on the cerebral ventricles, cerebral spinal fluid physiology and hydrocephalus.

On the second day of the conference, Dr. Muhonen and Dr. Anjalee Galion, board-certified pediatric neurologist and associate director of the CHOC Sleep Lab, will present on headaches and current management. Their lectures will be specifically focused on the etilogy and treatment of headaches in patients with hydrocephalus, pseudotumor cerebrii, and other brain pathology.

Dr. Anjalee Galion

All CHOC professionals and employees are invited to attend.  The CHOC Neuroscience Institute is offering assistance with the cost of registration. For details, email Rhonda Long, director, CHOC Neuroscience Institute at rlong@choc.org.

Learn more about HA Connect – 2018 National Conference on Hydrocephalus.

What CHOC Physicians are Grateful for this Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches, CHOC Children’s physicians explain what they’ll consider when giving thanks this holiday.

 

“CHOC has provided me with lifelDr. Neda Zadehong blessings. I am grateful to have grown up at and with this hospital, from the initial CHOC Tower to the current Bill Holmes Tower, through pediatric residency training and beyond.  To now be a member of such a remarkable team of providers — including our nurses and support staff — is both humbling and inspiring. Every day, I am especially thankful for the families who cross our threshold, and entrust the care of their most precious children to us. With continued commitment and dedication toward the health and well-being of our children, the future will be brighter than any of us can imagine.”
– Dr. Neda Zadeh, genetics

 

Dr. Kenneth Grant

 

 

“I am thankful to be working for an organization that creates an environment where our patients become our family. I am also grateful that CHOC Children’s has the foresight to invest in the innovative ideas we have to improve the health care we provide.”
 – Dr. Kenneth Grant, gastroenterology

 

 

 

mackey_tg

 

“I am thankful for the opportunity with be partnered with an excellent children’s hospital. I am also thankful for the pleasure of working with other positive people who provide outstanding care to the children of Orange County. Together, we work to improve the care and services we deliver to our most important resource — our children.”
– Dr. Daniel Mackey, pediatrics

 

 

 

 

Dr. Lilbeth Torno

“I am grateful for the incredible team we have in oncology, inlcuding   doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, the research team, members of ancillary services, our inpatient, clinic and OPI staff, administrative support, and other subspecialists, who all have great minds and compassionate hearts, and walk the difficult cancer journey with our patients and their families. I am humbled to be with such great company here at CHOC, who care deeply for children.”
– Dr. Lilibeth Torno, oncology

 

 

 

goodman_tg“I am most grateful to the people behind the scenes at the hospital who do all the invisible jobs that are so important to keep CHOC Children’s running: the housekeepers, lab and x-ray technologists, bio-medical engineers, pharmacy technicians, scrub technicians, security guards and maintenance staff that work tirelessly, 24-hours a day.”
– Dr. Gary Goodman, critical care

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. William Loudon

“I am most thankful for the ability to practice alongside of the caring and professional staff and physicians at CHOC, who all share the common goal of caring for children. Working together, we are able to tackle incredibly complex and varied problems that present in the amazingly diverse population of children that we serve.”
Dr. William Loudon, neurosurgery

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I am thankDr. Amy Harrisonful for so many things here at CHOC. I feel truly blessed every day to have found a professional community of like-minded caregivers who share a passion and dedication for continued improvement in the care we provide. I am also so grateful for the opportunity to meet and care for such incredibly courageous patients and to become a part of their families. Finally, I am thankful to my teams within the pulmonary division, the Cystic Fibrosis Center and the muscular dystrophy clinics for their selfless care of our patients. I wish our entire community a healthy and happy holiday season.”
Dr. Amy Harrison, pulmonology

 

choc_zupanc

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve my patients and families, and to help them secure bright futures through CHOC’s world-class care. I am also so grateful to work among a team that is steadfastly committed to the health and well-being of children in our community and beyond. “
Dr. Mary Zupanc, neurology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

aminian

“I am thankful for the platform CHOC has given us to provide service to a community that inspires me daily. I am humbled to just be part of it all.”
Dr. Afshin Aminian, orthopaedics

ROSA Robot Assists in CHOC Patient’s Successful Epilepsy Surgery

Five-year-old Ian Higginbotham recently enjoyed his best summer yet.  He experienced his first family vacation. He learned to swim and ride a bike. He got himself ready for kindergarten.  These are milestones most kids and parents, alike, eagerly welcome.  But there was a time when Ian’s parents weren’t certain their son, who was born seemingly healthy, would enjoy such happy pastimes.

Ian began talking and walking in his sleep as a toddler.  When the episodes, including night terrors, increased in frequency and severity, his mom Lisa made an appointment with the pediatrician.  One day, Lisa knew something just wasn’t right and didn’t want to wait for the appointment to get Ian checked out.  She and her husband Derek took him to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital.  To her surprise, doctors diagnosed her son with epilepsy.    Ian’s “sleepwalking” and “night terrors” were actually seizures.

The family was referred to CHOC’s comprehensive epilepsy program.  A national leader in pediatric epilepsy care, CHOC’s comprehensive epilepsy program offers cutting-edge diagnostics, innovative medical approaches and advanced surgical interventions.  CHOC was the first children’s hospital in the state to be named a Level 4 epilepsy center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers, signifying the highest-level medical and surgical evaluation and treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.

CHOC Children's

Ian’s neurologist Dr. Andrew Mower suspected he was experiencing complex partial seizures, which was confirmed by video EEG monitoring.  Complex partial seizures start in a small area of the temporal or frontal lobe of the brain, and quickly involve the areas of the brain affecting alertness and awareness.  The pattern of Ian’s seizures suggested they were originating from the right frontal lobe.  Dr. Mower knew Ian and his family were in for a tough journey.

“I really don’t think the general public understands the impact epilepsy has on a child and his family.  Its effects are multifaceted and extensive.  Our team’s goal is to reduce or eliminate our patients’ seizures, helping improve their quality of life,” explains Dr. Mower, who placed Ian on a series of medications.

The medications reduced Ian’s seizures, but did not control them.  Dr. Mower was concerned about the seizures affecting Ian’s development, and presented his case to the epilepsy team.   The multidisciplinary team agreed Ian was a candidate for epilepsy surgery.  For children who fail at least two medications, surgery may be considered early in treatment versus as a last resort.  Surgery can result in an improvement in seizure control, quality of life, and prevent permanent brain damage.  Ian’s surgery was going to be performed by CHOC neurosurgeon Dr. Joffre Olaya.

While the thought of surgery was frightening to Lisa and her husband, they were confident in the team and comforted to know their son was going to benefit from innovative technology, like the ROSA™ Robot. Considered one of the most advanced robotized surgical assistants, ROSA includes a computer system and a robotic arm.  The computer system offers 3D brain mapping to aid surgeons in locating the exact areas they need to reach and planning the best surgical paths.  The robotic arm is a minimally invasive surgical tool that improves accuracy and significantly reduces surgery/anesthesia time.

Dr. Olaya used ROSA to accurately place electrodes in the area of Ian’s brain suspected to be the source of his seizures.  By using the robot, Dr. Olaya avoided performing a craniotomy.

“ROSA is an amazing tool that yields many benefits for our patients, including less time under anesthesia in the operating room.  It reduces blood loss and risk of infections.  Patients tend to recover faster than they would if they had craniotomy,” says Dr. Olaya.

Lisa was amazed at the outcome. “I couldn’t believe how great Ian looked after the placements of the electrodes with ROSA.  He wasn’t in any pain, there was no swelling.  It was wonderful!”

She and her husband were also amazed at how well Ian did following his epilepsy surgery.

“We got our boy back,” says Lisa. “There were no more side effects from medication and, more importantly, no more seizures!  He started developing again and doing all the things a child his age should do.”

Ian’s care team isn’t surprised by his recovery.

“Children are resilient, and their brains are no different.  In fact, the plasticity of a young brain allows it to adapt to changes and heal more easily than an adult brain,” explains Dr. Mower.

Learning to ride a bike and swim were among the first of many milestones Ian quickly reached following surgery.  He enjoys playing with his younger brother and his friends.  And, whether inspired by his experience with ROSA or not, Ian loves robots.