Brain Surgery Ends Laughing Seizures in 3-Year-Old

Weeks after brain surgery, Anastasia Lagalla is not laughing any more -- and that is a good thing.

Physicians at Schneider Children's Hospital in suburban New York successfully removed a tumor from the 3-year-old's brain that caused hypothalamic hamartoma, a rare condition leading to seizures that produced uncontrollable laughter, followed by crying, kicking and screaming.

If left untreated, the condition could have worsened to the point of mental retardation, doctors said. Only 30 cases are diagnosed annually worldwide.

"It's like I have my little girl back," Ana's mom, Jennifer Anderson of Ridge, New York, told as reporters Thursday. "She's doing amazing."

The laughing seizures began in May 2006, Anderson said, with only a few episodes a day. At first, Anderson and her husband, Peter Lagalla, agreed with the assessment of doctors that the tantrum-like symptoms were merely normal child behavior.

But the frequency of the seizures grew to an alarming rate, Anderson said, and earlier this year physicians said a tumor in the little girl's brain was the culprit.

"It was almost as if she started to grind her teeth and then it was kind of a smile almost like the Joker -- I don't know how else to describe it," Anderson said.

On March 30, Dr. Steven Schneider, the hospital's co-chief of pediatric neurosurgery, and a team of colleagues removed the tumor in a delicate, four-hour procedure, which he referred to as a "journey to the center of her brain." Since the surgery, the seizures have stopped completely. Schneider was optimistic about Ana's prognosis.

Schneider used surgical navigating tools, a variation of Global Positioning System technology using microscopic cameras, precision instruments and other devices, to conduct the surgery.

Schneider's Children's Hospital is only the second facility in the United States to perform the rare brain surgery. The Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix is the other.