The epileptic seizures would come on so strong and so frequently – as many as 40 an hour – that Gio’s parents lived in “absolute fear” every time the attacks began. They worried constantly about the toll the seizures were taking on their 4-year-old son and wondered whether a cure would ever come.
“We would ask him, ‘What are you feeling?’ And he described it as being electrocuted,” says Ronnie, Gio’s father.
What gave them comfort was the resilience and fortitude Gio often showed. He would tell his father: “I have epilepsy, I’m not epilepsy.”
That uplifting attitude guided Gio and his family throughout their journey and earned him UCLA Health Laker for a Day honors for the game against the Miami Heat on March 16.
After a series of tests in 2015, UCLA pediatric neurologist Raman Sankar discovered Gio had developed a brain abnormality in utero known as cortical dysplasia. The abnormality was located in the left frontal lobe, an operable area of the brain that would not negatively affect cognitive function, speech or motor skills.
A medication regimen provided two years without seizures for Gio before ending in “abrupt chaos,” Ronnie recalls, as the seizures returned to as many as 25 per day. The family had hoped to avoid surgery but made the difficult decision, in consultation with Dr. Sankar and the UCLA team, to pursue a procedure that would remove a portion of Gio’s brain.
UCLA pediatric neurosurgeon Aria Fallah performed the seven-hour surgery at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. Gio emerged from the operating room and said, “I love you mommy and daddy.” Four days later, the family was back home in Las Vegas with a seizure-free Gio.
Gio, along with his father, mother Marie, three brothers and a family friend, returned to Los Angeles to watch the Lakers. They were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour and a VIP experience, including an in-game video montage of Gio’s journey that seemed surreal to his parents.
“When you have epilepsy, you feel a constant sense of dread that something is going to break through,” Ronnie says. “So a year later, to be a Laker for a Day and see him on a jumbotron, it’s unimaginable for me. I would love to think that he will look back and be like, ‘I can share my story and hopefully it will improve the lives of other people.’”
For more information about pediatric epilepsy treatment, visit uclahealth.org/mattel/pediatric-neurology