When my son Payden was around 5 months old, he started developing the laugh. It would last a second, then ten seconds later the same thing—like a broken record. Then it started getting longer. It would last hours—eight, ten at a time.
The daughter of my best friend happened to be in medical school; she thought the laughs sounded like gelastic seizures. I Googled those words, and within minutes, I was watching a YouTube video of a child having them. That was it. That was our son. Then I came across a journal article about a gelastic-seizure surgery performed by Dr. Steven Schneider in New York. I e-mailed him, and he told us the tests we needed to get. The MRI confirmed it: Payden had a hypothalamic hamartoma, a noncancerous growth in the brain. Most of them are the size of a lima bean. Payden’s was the size of a golf ball.
Our neurologist here in Dallas referred us to the local children’s hospital, but when we went to meet the surgeon there, it was horrific. She had no empathy. My wife, Jennifer, asked, “Will Payden be able to hear?” “Maybe.” “Will he be able to walk?” The surgeon said, “I doubt it. He’s never going to live independently.”
The next morning, I asked Dr. Schneider if I could FedEx him the MRI to get a second opinion. He said, “Sure, and by the way, since the last time you e-mailed me, I’ve begun working with Harold Rekate.” I didn’t know who Dr. Rekate was, so I looked him up. He’d done more hypothalamic hamartoma surgeries than anyone in the world. My wife and I are Christians, and we were praying. Talk about getting signs from God. Everything pointed to New York. A few weeks later, we were there. It was the first time any of us had been to the city, and after meeting with the doctors at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, we took a journey through Central Park, to the Natural History museum and the Boathouse.
Dr. Schneider had anticipated three surgeries. After the second surgery, he told us he and Dr. Rekate had gotten 90-plus percent of the tumor, and that a third wouldn’t be necessary. Payden hasn’t had a seizure since.
Greg Fell, as told to Eric Benson.
*The photo caption in this story has been updated. The image of Payden Fell was taken at 8˝ months, not 7˝ months.