An Indiana woman undergoing surgery in Los Angeles to remove a tumor experienced a twist worthy of a sci-fi plot when doctors discovered an embryonic twin in her brain.
Yamini Karanam, 26, was unaware of what was happening in her head until she underwent a procedure designed to reach deep into the brain to extract the tumor. After waking up from the surgery, Karanam was surprised to learn of the "teratoma" -- her embryonic twin, a rarity in modern medicine, complete with bone, hair and teeth.
Karanam realized last September that something wasn't registering in her mind. The Indiana University Ph.D. student was experiencing trouble comprehending things she read.
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"Problems with reading comprehension, listening comprehension. If a couple people were talking in a room, I wouldn't understand what was happening," Karanam said.
What became more frustrating for Karanam was that her doctors would contradict each other regarding the source of the problem.
"The neurologist would say the neurosurgeon is not being practical in your case," Karanam said. "And the neurosurgeon would say the neurologist is not being optimistic in your case. And I'm like, could someone be educated about this?"
That's when her own research led her to Dr. Hrayr Shahinian at the Skullbase Institute in Los Angeles. Shahinian developed a minimally-invasive way of reaching deep into the brain to extract tumors.
"Unlike traditional brain surgery where you open the skull and use metal retractors and you bring a microscope to see in the depths of the brain, what we're doing is keyhole surgery," he said.
The method uses fiber-optic technology with digital imagery. A half-inch incision into the brain allows for an endoscope to reach in and slowly and very delicately chisel away at the tumor.
Karanam awoke to learn what was causing her all that trouble in Indiana. She lightheartedly called the tumor her "evil twin sister who's been torturing me for the past 26 years."
"This is my second one, and I've probably taken out 7,000 or 8,000 brain tumors,” Shahinian said.
Shahinian said his fear was that tumor may be cancerous. Pathologists, though, determined that not to be the case and Karanam is expected to make a full recovery in only three weeks.
Karanam said her biggest frustration was that so many other brain surgeons had no idea Shahinian's technique was available.
"It's really unfair that people don't know about it," she said. "This has to be mainstream. This is the first thing that they should get you. When they know you have a pineal tumor, they should tell you, ‘You know what? There's a minimally invasive approach in which they won't kill you, they won't leave you with a disability. There's a way in which you can live your life just the way you want to.’”
Shahinian said before he invented his technique, the only option to remove this type of tumor would have been surgery that included removing half of the skull. He says because the brain is such a sensitive organ, the less it's disturbed, the better.
"We want to be in and out without the brain knowing we were there, and I think that's the beauty of this technique," Shahinian said.