Hannah “Seizure” Montana
Teen sensation Hannah Montana makes a Florida girl shake all over. The problem: She can’t make it stop.
Certain sounds — barking dogs, the clash of cymbals and a song by the alter ego of celebrity offspring Miley Cyrus — all trigger seizures in the girl, making her body shake and jerk forward.
The 12-year-old has a mysterious form of epilepsy that’s set off when sufferers hear, see or feel a trigger. Warm water, Beethoven music and even a specific kind of font can all spawn seizures.
You may have heard about this kind of thing before: In 1997, hundreds of Japanese kids suffered seizures triggered by the flashing lights of a Pokemon cartoon. In 1991, a doctor reported that an American woman suffered attacks when she heard the voice of “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart.
In the Florida girl’s case, low baritone-type sounds like dog barks caused as many as 25-30 seizures a day, says Dr. Paul R. Carney, a pediatric neurologist and professor at the University of Florida. The girl likes music, he says, but found that some songs could trigger a seizure, including one by Hannah Montana. (He doesn’t recall the title.)
At first, doctors figured she needed a shrink. But that didn’t help, and she ended up seeing Carney, who diagnosed a condition called “reflex epilepsy” about two years ago.
People with the condition seem to suffer seizures when the circuitry of the brain processes a trigger (like a sound) and amplifies it, says Dr. James Geyer, a neurologist and epilepsy specialist in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “It’s like abnormal feedback off a microphone,” he says, and may be related to a glitch in the body’s “startle” response.
“I actually had a patient a number of years ago with reading-related epilepsy,” Geyer says. “If he read something in a book with a certain type of font, he’d have a seizure.” (Geyer doesn’t remember the kind of font it was — we’re just hoping it’s not the one this is written in.)
Doctors treat reflex epilepsy with anti-seizures medication and tell patients to avoid their triggers. Geyer says it’s the equivalent of the old joke: “It hurts when I do this,” a patient tells his doctor. “Then don’t do that,” the doctor says.
There’s good news in Florida: the 12-year-old girl is on medication and now only has about one seizure a week. “Her prognosis is actually good,” Carney says. “In a lot of people, these seizures go away over time.”