Eight-year-old Timmy LaCorcia was having a bad day. He didn’t feel well and had to leave school early. It was frustrating — he usually had perfect attendance — but not alarming. After all, it was March, a time when children often struggle with colds and other illnesses. “We just thought he had a stomach bug,” says his mother, Gina.
But a week later, he still felt sick. This time, his head hurt. At home, Gina got him settled on the sofa and gently pulled a blanket over him as he dozed. Several minutes later, she checked back in on him and noticed that his foot was twitching. Turning him over, she saw that his eyes had rolled back in his head and he was drooling. Frantic, she dialed 911.
By the time an ambulance arrived, Timmy had recovered and seemed fine. But the frightening episode merited a trip to their local emergency room, just to be safe. At the hospital, it soon became clear that he wasn’t suffering from an early-spring cold. Doctors recommended a computed tomography (CT) scan — and the results were troubling. The imaging test identified a large mass in Timmy’s brain. “It was surreal and terrifying,” says Gina.
A rollercoaster of emotions
The family was referred to Boston Children’s Hospital for additional tests. As they waited anxiously at the hospital for results — on Gina’s birthday — a doctor calmed their fears with the words every worried parent longs to hear: “I do not have devastating news for you.” Instead, clinicians diagnosed Timmy with a cavernous malformation, an irregular mass of small blood vessels (capillaries) in the brain. While some cavernous malformations sit dormant for years, they can cause problems, including seizures, when they bleed.
Although they often re-bleed eventually, the majority of cavernous malformations usually have a rest period of a few weeks when they are less likely to bleed again. For this reason, Dr. Edward Smith and the team at the Cerebrovascular Surgery and Interventions Center recommended that surgery take place in about a month to allow Timmy’s brain to heal. But within a week, Timmy was experiencing the same symptoms that had sent him to the emergency room in the first place. Mike and Gina raced back to Boston Children’s with him, where a magnetic resonance (MRI) scan confirmed the re-bleed.
Life after brain surgery
The idea of brain surgery was daunting, but the couple knew it would help Timmy. Their concerns were eased as Dr. Smith outlined the risks and benefits of the procedure — and explained that the benefits of removing the malformation outweighed any risks. His demeanor helped, too. “He was great with Timmy but also addressed all of our questions,” says Mike. “He’s a phenomenal doctor.”
Even a grownup would be scared to undergo surgery, so it was natural that Timmy was worried the night before the procedure. But he remained calm when the time came. “He was like a little superhero,” remembers Mike. “He made things easier for all of us.”
A year and a half after surgery, a scar is the only visible reminder of the experience, although Timmy occasionally talks about it. “He actually remembers his time at Boston Children’s fondly,” Mike muses. Most of the time, though, he’s too concerned with cheering on his favorite professional wrestlers, visiting amusement parks and playing with his older sister and cousins — all part of the important business of just being a kid.
Learn about the Cerebrovascular Surgery and Interventions Center.