An Indiana University Ph.D. student received the shock of her life when she discovered the source of her memory and concentration problems was an embryonic twin that had grown inside of her brain.
Yamini Karanam began to notice that something wasn't right in September of last year. The 26-year-old began to experience "problems with reading comprehension, listening comprehension. If a couple people were talking in a room, I wouldn't understand what was happening,"
After doctors in her area could not come to a conclusion on a course of treatment, the young woman decided to take matters into her own hands. Karanam's research led her to specialist Dr. Hrayr Shahinian at the Skull Base Institute of Los Angeles. Shahinian had pioneered a new method of precision brain tumor removal called "keyhole" surgery. The new technique uses an endoscope and digital imagery to reach into the brain through a small incision. Shahinian says the new method is "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."
When the day of Karanam's surgery came this month, however, even the seasoned medical professional was taken aback by what he found lurking in his patient's brain. Karanam's mass was no ordinary tumor. Instead, it was a teratoma, an embryonic twin. The twin was so developed that it even had visible bone, hair, and teeth. Teratomas are extremely rare in recorded medicine. Dr. Shahinian confirmed the rarity of the condition in his own experience. "This is my second one, and I've probably taken out 7,000 or 8,000 brain tumors."
Despite the bizarre and gruesome specifics, Karanam's story has a happy ending. The tumor was not cancerous, and Karanam experienced no side effects from the surgery. She is expected to make a full recovery within only a few weeks. Karanam even has a sense of humor about the ordeal, jokingly referring to the tumor as an "evil twin sister who's been torturing me for the past 26 years."
Karanam is also hoping that the media attention from her unique case will bring awareness to keyhole surgery as an option for other brain tumor patients.
"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 explained that before he developed the keyhole technique, the only option for deep brain tumor extraction included removing up to a half of the patient's skull, exposing the brain to potential serious damage from the surgery itself.
"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.