Anthony Boldt and Chris Murto
MRI-guide surgery gives two Barrow patients seizure-free futures


Chris Murto and his family.

On the surface, Anthony Boldt and Chris Murto don’t appear to have much in common—the former is an 18-year-old baseball player, while the latter is a 29-year-old computer programming hopeful.

But not only have the two Arizona men both suffered from debilitating seizures, they have also seen their seizure activity come to an abrupt halt after undergoing a remarkable minimally-invasive procedure at Barrow.

Anthony and Chris were among the first Barrow patients to be treated with an innovative laser technology that uses light energy to destroy brain lesions, such as tumors and other malformations. Barrow is one of only three hospitals in Arizona, and the first in Phoenix, to offer the FDA-approved technology.

In the unique surgery, a small laser probe is inserted through the skull until it pinpoints the lesion. Light is delivered through the probe, causing temperatures in the target area to rise, destroying the unwanted tissue in seconds. Because the procedure is guided by real-time MRI images, it provides precise targeting and lessens damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

WATCH: See how this amazing procedure works.


Worth the wait

This type of minimally invasive procedure is what the Murto family had been waiting on for nearly three decades.

Chris was born with a hypothalamic hamartoma (HH), a benign tumor that can cause severe seizures, brain damage and progressive cognitive impairment. By the time Chris was 13, his tumor had caused a rapid increase in seizures and caused his IQ to drop so low that doctors told his parents he would never be able to live an independent life. As an adult, he was having several seizures a day.

The Murtos researched new HH surgeries as they were introduced but considered each too risky. When they learned that Chris was a candidate for the new laser technology, which became available at Barrow in November 2012, they decided it was his best option. Barrow neurosurgeons Peter Nakaji, MD, and Francisco Ponce, MD, collaborated on Chris’ surgery to ensure the most accurate planning and precise execution.

A breakthrough for HH patients

“Before this type of technology, patients with HH had to undergo invasive surgery to remove the mass,” says Dr. Nakaji. “The new laser surgery is minimally invasive and usually requires a single stitch and a one-night’s stay in the hospital.”

Other benefits of the procedure include the fact that it does not require radiation, causes little to no pain and can be performed while the patient is awake, eliminating the need for general anesthesia.

Chris has not had one seizure since undergoing the procedure in August. “This surgery has changed my life,” he says. “It’s amazing to have instantly gone from having 250 seizures a month to not having one. After all these years, I’m finally able to live an independent life.”

Anthony, now a senior at Gilbert High School, began to develop migraine-like headaches that would force him to miss several days of school around the age of 10. “The migraines were brutal,” he says.

Anthony BoldtBut that was just the beginning of his health issues. When he was 16, Anthony started having seizures that produced auras, or flashes of light, vomiting, visual loss and blackouts. At one point, he was having five to six seizures a week.

“I was jumping through a series of medications, trying to find one that worked. I would start a new one, and the seizures would slow down for a few weeks but then start again,” he says. The debilitating effects touched every part of his life, including baseball. “I was up at bat and knew what was happening. I called a time out, and my coach walked me down the side of the field. He told me I blacked out for 10 seconds,” Anthony says. Because of the increasing frequency of his seizures, he didn’t play baseball his junior year.

Eventually, Anthony was referred to Barrow neurologist Steve Chung, MD, who diagnosed the teenager with left occipital cortical dysplasia, a brain abnormality that causes neurons to misfire and produce epileptic seizures. Dr. Chung consulted with other experts at Barrow, and all agreed Anthony was an excellent candidate for the new procedure.

“We knew he was taking multiple medications that were failing, we knew the origin of the seizures, and we knew we could safely do the brain surgery without risking his vision,” says Dr. Chung, director of epileptic research at Barrow.

A first for Barrow

Barrow neurosurgeon Kris Smith, MD, performed Anthony’s surgery in July. It was the first time the procedure had been used at Barrow for that particular diagnosis. “It’s not a cure-all for epilepsy, but it’s promising for medically-resistant symptoms,” says Dr. Smith.

Time will tell whether it will be a “cure-all” for Anthony, but, like Chris, he has not had a single seizure since his surgery. In fact, he is back to playing baseball and looking forward to high school graduation. Chris has hopes of becoming a video game programmer. Thanks to this procedure, these two young men, who once shared a similar and frustrating past, now share hope for a fulfilling—and seizure-free—future.



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