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Northwell neurologists participate in Panama surgical mission to help children with epilepsy

At bedside, Yobelis Bernal, 7, with Northwell neurologists Ruben Kuzniecky, MD  and Raquel Fonseca, MD.
At bedside, Yobelis Bernal, 7, with Northwell neurologists Ruben Kuzniecky, MD and Raquel Fonseca, MD.

Panama Epilepsy Surgery Mission performed 12 life-changing procedures


Northwell Health neurologists Ruben Kuzniekcy, MD, and Raquel Fonseca, MD, were among the physicians who participated in the Panama Epilepsy Surgery Mission last month at the Hospital de Ninos de Panama.

The purpose of the trip was to treat children with intractable epilepsy who otherwise never would have the possibility of receiving surgery. The multidisciplinary team performed 12 surgeries in children ages 4-15 during the five-day mission in March.

“Although specialty care is available in Panama, epilepsy surgery services are not provided as they are very complex,” said Dr. Kuzniecky, Northwell’s vice chairman of academic affairs and neurologist specializing in epilepsy. “It is impossible to operate without a sophisticated, multidisciplinary team including neurologists, neurosurgeons and electroencephalography (EEG) technicians.”

Drs. Kuzniecky and Fonseca partnered with Panamanian physicians at the Hospital de Ninos to combine resources and expertise. This was the group’s sixth trip to Panama, staffed by a team of doctors from Northwell Health, Baylor University Medical Center and NYU Langone.  

Targeting seizure-producing areas of the brain

The procedures involved resective surgeries to remove seizure-producing areas of the brain. Among the children who were treated was an 8-year-old boy with Rasmussen’s encephalitis, a devastating progressive brain inflammatory condition that attacks one brain hemisphere and destroys it. This child received a hemispherectomy, which disconnects the damaged side of the brain from the healthy side. The operation is complex, but very effective in eliminating the disease.

“I was born and grew up in Panama,” Dr. Kuzniecky said. “It is so rewarding to be able to come back every year to help children with severe epilepsy who have no other treatment options. Many of these families are very poor and live in remote areas, which makes their treatment very difficult. We also met some of the children and parents who were operated on years ago. Most are finishing school and are able to live normal lives. This is the most rewarding part of what we do every day.”

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