Infantile Spasms are not diagnosed early in many cases due to a lack of knowledge, even by physicians. I am not putting any blame on physicians, but the fact is that this is so rare, most practicing pediatricians simply won’t even see a case in their career. Parents are almost always blindsided by such a diagnosis. In some cases, a family has warning of a symptomatic onset of this epilepsy. All scientific evidence indicates early diagnosis and aggressive treatment gives the patient the best chance at the not only stopping the seizures, but the best developmental outcome as well.
The only thing I have obsessed over more than my son’s tuberous sclerosis complex diagnosis was the possible onset of infantile spasms. Since we had Connor’s diagnosis shortly after birth, we were in an uncommon position of knowing to be on the lookout for this rare and catastrophic seizure type. We were fortunate about that, though it certainly didn’t feel that way at the time.
Connor was born with TSC, a genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to grow on the organs. The tumors can wreak havoc with the functioning of the organs. He was born with several brain growths called tubers that caused him to have complex-partial seizures from the time he was a few hours old. He spent five weeks in the NICU as his seizures proved difficult to control with medication. We thought he would undergo brain surgery in his first month of life. One (of many) 48-hour EEG recorded 82 seizures, the majority of which were subclinical (not visible to the eye). Eventually they decreased enough that doctors felt he could go home — on a cocktail of three seizure medications — and return for surgery when he was bigger and it was safer. He underwent a resection of the right frontal lobe at four months and we entered a new seizure-free life.
For a month.
Then it happened. The moment I had lain awake dreading, watched countless YouTube videos in preparation for and prayed a whole lot not to happen(for someone who has never been particularly religious). That jackknife movement, arms flying up, knees up ever so slightly — the spasms were here.
Infantile spasms occur at a far higher rate in the TSC population than in the regular population. I believe the statistics said that 40 percent of children with TSC are estimated to develop this complication. I was so sure we could be part of the 60 percent. This wasn’t based on any sort of logic, just grasping at straws of hope.
I knew what I was seeing immediately. I had feared this moment for so long that the shock of it brought on a panic attack. I became dizzy and had to back into the chair in his room. My husband asked me if I was sure. I was, but I still — grasping at those desperate straws — said that maybe, just maybe I was wrong. Let’s wait and see if it happens again.
I took Connor into our room and we both fell asleep, him drained from the seizures, me from the panic attack. We awoke a couple hours later and went to the kitchen. I laid him on his playmat and sat down to eat. He was hanging out peacefully when it happened again. And again. And again. No more time for denial. I got on the phone to his neurologist. We already knew what the plan was.
I should mention that when I worry about stuff, I like to get really detail oriented. So one of the things I had obsessed over was that the spasms would start on a weekend when his doctor would be unavailable. But it was only a little after noon on a Friday. Thank goodness.
The office message began to play. Oh. My. God. They close at noon on Fridays. How had I forgotten that? Would I have to go to the ER? Wait, I could page him, the message told me. Relief washed over me.
The partner of my son’s primary neurologist called us back. He’s great too, and he was actually the one that originally diagnosed him. Ironically, Connor had an office EEG earlier that week as a follow up to the surgery. He didn’t sound optimistic when I describe what I saw, but he told me he would take a look at Connor’s EEG which hadn’t been read yet. When he called me back, I heard the dreaded word — hipsarrythmia, the chaotic brainwave pattern associated with infantile spasms (I want to note that many TSC parents report that their child presented with infantile spasms, but no hips on the EEG. So if you see something suspicious but the EEG is clear, push the issue!)
The hips was there before the spasms started. Well, at least the definite spasms. There were a couple strange movements he had done in the couple weeks prior that didn’t repeat and weren’t so obvious, that I now questioned.
An emergency prescription for Klonopin was called in to get us through the next couple days until we could get him started on vigabatrin. Vigabatrin/Sabril is the front line recommendation for TSC and is only available through mail order specialty pharmacies. ACTH has been effective for some, but at lower rates than in others with infantile spasms. The spasms stopped within a couple of weeks, though he persisted to have some strange eye rolling episodes that never showed up on EEG and were never defined.
Connor was already pretty delayed, but we were lucky that we saw no regression. He was subdued and giggled less, but the day after we saw the last spasm, he woke us early shrieking and laughing happily.
For many kids, spasms are the first sign of a problem so they go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to how rare they are. As much as my obsessing drained me, it likely allowed us a better outcome. We didn’t have to wait for a diagnosis — we had it within hours and were able to start treating it immediately. Many aren’t so lucky and the spasms cause irreversible damage as parents struggle to find out what is wrong with their child.
I wish I could say Connor was seizure free, but unfortunately his complex partials have returned. In spite of that, we have seen an incredible amount of progress in the last few months. His first 14 months were extremely slow progress. But just since June he has started crawling, pulling to stand, cruising and climbing the stairs. He’s happy, opinionated and in love with Click Clack Moo and Super Why.
The blog, Mixed up Mommy, is a wonderful and inspirational blog about all things TSC and life in general.
Here is a YouTube video of his spasms which I have uploaded in the hopes of helping other parents identify them quickly.