A PhD student from Indiana University had been experiencing neurological distress for several months. Yamini Karanam had been plagued with forgetfulness, difficulty understanding simple writing, and severe headaches. Once a brilliant student, who shifted from Hyderabad to Indiana to study computer science, she recently started having difficulty understanding the simplest of articles.
Yamini started visiting doctors and blogging about her visits. Finally, she got some answers when a doctor spotted what he thought was a cyst on her pineal gland, a tiny pea like structure in the centre of the brain. She was told that it was inoperable. However, she was not ready to settle for that answer, so she kept looking for doctors willing to operate on her.
At last, she found Dr Hrayr Shahinian of the Skullbase Institute in Los Angeles who was willing to operate. He said he could remove the tumour through a specialised keyhole brain surgery.
Armed with the $30,000 her friends had raised for her treatment, Yamini made her way to LA. The doctor performed the surgery and much to his shock, did not find a tumour. He found something much more terrifying.
Yamini’s tumour was, in actuality, a teratoma. A teratoma is a tumour that contains hair, teeth and bone. There are instances where teratoma’s have also contained tissues found in organs such as liver, brain, thyroid, and lungs.
Teratomas have baffled scientists for many decades. Some have argued that they are basically twins that never developed and got absorbed inside the surviving baby’s body. There have been many cases of newborns with large teratomas attached to them, like conjoined twins. However, usually it is not until adulthood that people realise they have one.
In 2009 a British man named Gavin Hyatt , “gave birth” to an “undeveloped identical twin” when a small lump pushed out of his abdomen. Earlier this year doctors in Hong Kong found a new born baby with two partially developed fetuses inside.
There are doctors who believe Yamini’s tumour was not really a twin. Dr. Cathy Burnweit , chief pediatric surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, believes teratomas are not twins or embryos. They arise from germ cells, which are the cells that go on to later develop into a person’s gametes (such as sperm and eggs). At early stages, germ cells have the ability to turn into any cell in the body.
The type of tumour Yamini had occurs, ” when a person’s own germ cell multiplies abnormally and differentiates into various different, normal tissues, in an abnormal place,” said Burnweit.
Dr. Shahinian said Yamini’s tumour was not cancerous, and she should make a full recovery. She has taken the news in good spirits, calling the tumour her “evil twin sister who has been torturing her for 26 years”.