Cutting-Edge Skull Surgery for Rare Condition

Liza, a third-year undergraduate at Stanford University and member of the school’s crew team, became concerned when she started experiencing bouts of vertigo, along with ringing in her ears and balance issues. She visited several doctors, who misdiagnosed her with Meniere’s disease, severe ear infection and even sinus congestion.

Despite treatment with steroids and antibiotics, Liza’s symptoms persisted until one night she awoke with sharp pain in her ear and a feeling that the environment around her was moving. A CT scan revealed what doctors had been missing: Liza had a hole in the bone overlying a part of her inner ear, a rare condition called superior semicircular canal dehiscence. 

To correct the dehiscence, or opening, Liza underwent a cutting-edge and minimally invasive keyhole procedure, in which a dime-size hole is created in the skull allowing surgeons to repair the opening in her inner ear. The surgery takes approximately 90 minutes and has a 90 percent success rate. 

According to Liza’s neurosurgeon Dr. Isaac Yang, SSCD was only discovered about 15 years ago, when high-tech imaging allowed doctors finally to be able to detect the abnormality. Normally, there are two windows in the inner ear, through which sound energy moves. SSCD causes a third opening, which causes fluid in the area to become displaced. The condition typically is diagnosed in middle-aged persons. Symptoms include sensitivity to sound and pressure, headaches, tinnitus (high-pitched ringing in the ears), fatigue and abnormal amplification of internal body sounds, such as heartbeats. The cause of SSCD is unknown, though research suggests it is a developmental abnormality.

Dr. Yang says Liza is the youngest patient to undergo the keyhole procedure. See how she’s doing post-surgery:

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