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Making the Monster Go Away

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My daughter Gina was five when she began changing. I noticed it about the same time her school did. Sometimes it was like she had OCD or anxiety. She wouldn’t throw anything away. When she started throwing tantrums that turned into rage if someone told her she had to throw something out, it became alarming.

At school, she was defensive and ultra-sensitive. Her teacher and the other kids got angry with her. We tried all kinds of therapy, from brain gym and occupational therapy to play therapy to a psychologist who recommended a medical evaluation. Gina’s pediatrician thought she was childhood bipolar. How’s that for scary?

Gina has a family history of bipolar disorder on her father’s side, and her child psychiatrist also thought she was bipolar. The psychiatrist recommended an expensive mood stabilizer that was untested on kids under 10. But the idea of putting my young daughter on an untested, expensive drug that would affect her brain was pretty unsettling to me; I felt like I needed more objective information before making that kind of decision.

Because I work at a brain imaging center in Denver called CereScan, I asked our pediatrician if we could get Gina a brain scan. This would help us know what was going on in her brain that could be causing her symptoms. She agreed but unfortunately Gina’s psychiatrist was resistant, and said that it wasn’t necessary. Eventually I had to put my foot down. I insisted we get a scan for Gina.

CereScan uses SPECT imaging, which is different than an MRI or CT. It is a very simple process and fairly easy on a child. I held her hand the whole time and we listened to Disney music. There was no sedation and Gina was not scared. The whole scan took only about 20 minutes.

We were relieved when the scan showed no evidence of bipolar disorder. The mood center in Gina’s brain was normal but there was an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus that was very overactive. Basically, it meant that Gina’s ability to be flexible was non-existent. Any sort of change terrified her, and she would express her fear in tantrums. This helped us understand why she would fly into a rage if someone asked her to throw something away. She appeared to have mood swings but it was not because of a mood disorder. She was just not capable of accepting change easily because of how her brain works.

CereScan’s physician did a consultation with Gina’s psychiatrist and suggested a different medication to calm down the part of the brain that was causing Gina’s problems. This medication was safe for children, has been around for 40 years and is available in a generic, which costs $10 a month compared to $75 a month for the mood stabilizer her psychiatrist wanted to “try.”

The results of the medication have been pretty miraculous. Gina’s rage is almost gone and she’s doing better in school. She is seven now. She says the monster inside her is gone. Now she can control it.

Nothing is more frightening than seeing your child in pain and not knowing what you can do to help her. Sometimes you just need to trust yourself. Nobody knows your child better than you do. Trust your gut. Do what it takes to make the doctors listen. There is more objective information available. No matter what, there is always hope.

Julie Banta has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and is the mother of two busy school aged daughters with her third child due in December 2010. She juggles motherhood with being the VP of Provider and Patient Care for CereScan, a high definition brain imaging center in Denver. She has been working in the field of SPECT brain imaging for over six years – before she knew her own daughter would benefit from one. You can reach her at 720-242-9081 or jbanta@cerescanimaging.com or learn more about CereScan at www.cerescanimaging.com.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson June 16, 2010

    Wow, what an inspirational story and I am so glad you got to the bottom of it vs. many years of prolonged testing. We are so blessed to live in an age when such technology is available.

  • comment avatar Melissa Taylor June 16, 2010

    Great post — we’ve been going through something similar. It’s good to know we’re not alone and it happens to other families.

  • comment avatar Fred Holden June 16, 2010

    Thanks for this, Julie. It’s great when you find a solution!

  • comment avatar Kagey June 18, 2010

    It’s tough when you’re not fluent in all the solutions for the problems your child may be having — you end up trusting the professionals that advise you. I’m glad you trusted your gut, but how many parents have the information to help them trust that nagging internal voice?
    Thanks for sharing this method of diagnosing the problem — I hope it helps other parents who experience the inexplicable.

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