Morgan Shaginaw was 3 years old the first time she had a seizure. Tests showed an abnormal rhythm in the brain and her doctors warned that it might happen again. Four years later, it did.
At that time, Morgan was diagnosed with epilepsy and given medication to control it. It was the first of nine medications that she would take over the next 12 years. “None of them controlled her seizures completely,” says her mom Kelly. “One made her crazy, moody and miserable. Another one made it hard for her to function. The meds would shorten her seizures but she was still blacking out.”
The seizures became increasingly disruptive. “When I had a seizure I would do things but I wasn’t really conscious of them,” says Morgan, now 18, who lives in Burnt Hills. “I looked like a normal person standing there and saying whatever, but I didn’t remember any of it. As I got older, it turned into, ‘I was there, now I’m here. What happened?’ I probably had a seizure.”
School was a challenge. Some kids made jokes about seizures while teachers wondered about missing assignments. “Teachers would say to her, ‘You didn’t tell me you had a seizure,’” Kelly says. “But she didn’t tell you because she didn’t realize it. She just kind of muddled through.”
Kelly was nervous about leaving Morgan alone or allowing her to walk home from school. The condition also prohibited her from getting her driver’s license. After discussing concerns with neurologist Dr. Anthony Ritaccio, surgery began to look like a better option. A complex pre-surgical assessment to map where her seizures were coming from and to identify critical areas of her brain ensued.
“We knew that Morgan’s memory and language areas were close to the parts of her brain that we would need to perform surgery on, so we mapped these functions to exclude any major losses during surgery,” explains Ritaccio.
In July, 2012, Dr. Matthew Adamo, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Albany Medical Center, performed an anterior temporal lobectomy, which removed the part of Morgan’s brain that had been causing her seizures. He and his team also removed parts of her amygdala and hippocampus, which the seizures had hardened.
With the exception of some speech therapy to correct a minor language deficit and help with recall, Morgan has had no repercussions. She is attending Schenectady County Community College and waiting for the go-ahead from her doctors to get her driver’s license.
“We used to say it’s been however long it’s been since my last seizure and then say ‘Knock on wood,’” she says. “Now, we don’t knock on wood anymore when we say it’s 27 weeks and two days since my last seizure. “