Everyone except his mother dismissed Chasin Mizrahi’s panic attacks as high levels of teenaged anxiety, until he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor.
Starting at age 12, Chasin would have a series of three panic attacks, every 28 days.
Chasin, now 19, of Buffalo, New York, didn’t think he felt more worried or anxious than other teenagers, but on and off for six years, he would sit for an hour a week on his therapist’s couch, searching for a cause for his monthly anxiety.
But the episodes continued, the same as ever: three 30-second seizures, over the course of two days, every 28 days.
Chasin Mizrahi, 19, had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor that was affecting his amygdala and giving him panic attacks in May 2017. Now he's free of all symptoms, except for a scar on the side of his head (right)
Chasin’s mother, Jennifer, was sure there had to be another explanation for her otherwise happy son’s bouts of panic, but his doctor couldn’t see anything wrong.
'He would be awake, but not normal,' she says. Jennifer took Jason to a total of six different doctors before they got a correct diagnosis.
After his last seizure, over Memorial Day weekend, Jennifer had had enough. Chasin was about to graduate and go to college, and she wanted a solution before he left.
Luckily, the Mizrahi family had a helpful friend. Jennifer took Chasin to see Dr John Boockvar, a neurosurgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital.
‘Unfortunately, brain tumors can cause a host of symptoms, and you just have to be aware of them,’ says Dr Boockvar. ‘What’s great is that the doctors didn’t think of pushing him for an MRI, his mother did.’
Dr Boockvar knew immediately that what Chasin was experiencing were not panic attacks, at least not in the traditional sense.
‘He was getting these episodes like a woman gets her menstrual cycle,’ says Dr Boockvar.
‘Something cyclical like that takes a lot more work for the brain,’ he says. He recognized these symptoms for what they really were: seizures, which Chasin's pediatrician had explicitly told his mother they could not be.
Typical anxiety and panic attacks don’t just subside suddenly, like Chasin’s seizures. As he described his experiences to Dr Boockvar, he picked up on other telltale signs.
Chasin (left) still didn't know that his 'panic attacks' were seizures when he went to his senior prom, in June 2016. But his mother, Jennifer (right) pushed him to get him to an MRI before he started college at University Buffalo
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‘He would say he’d stand up from the dinner table to grab a bottle of water,’ then have a panic attack, ‘and 30 seconds later be back at the dinner table, fine.’
But even that mundane behavior was ‘a classic seizure symptom. They need water because they start salivating,’ right before a seizure, Dr Boockvar.
Dr Broockvar did an on Chasin and discovered a non-cancerous tumor called a ganglioma, affecting his amygdala. He booked a surgery to remove the tumor and sent Chasin to a colleague, who prescribed him seizure medication.
Chasin never had another panic attack, and everything about them became clear.
Chasin was able to go back to camp (pictured) this past summer, panic attack and seizure-free, after having a benign tumor removed in May 2017
The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for anxiety. The tumor was causing seizures that would induce the feelings of panic and anxiety that had nothing to do with what was going on in Chasin’s life.
The tumor caused Chasin’s brain to essentially ‘develop an electrical circuit such that his amygdala was firing three times over the course of two days every 28 days,’ Dr Chasin says.
Ganglioma’s like Chasin’s can become cancerous in rare cases, but now that his has been removed, Chasin is healthy, and will never have another seizure again, though he does have a slightly elevated risk of developing other brain tumors later in life.
But most importantly, he’s free of panic attacks, the very real anxiety that waiting for them could induce, and no longer trying to figure out what problems his therapists were sure his subconscious was hiding.
'Chasin's had a hard rode. the brain surgery was easy, compared to the things that led up to it,' Jennifer says.
‘He’d tell his psychotherapist he was relaxed, and she’d say “you think you’re feeling that way, but what your really feeling”…I can’t imagine what he thought sitting on that couch,’ says Dr Boockvar.
Instead, Chasin is now attending the University at Buffalo, in New York, where he is a sophomore.
Dr Boockvar says any number of things that affect the amygdala could cause the same panic-attack-like symptoms, including stroke, multiple sclerosis, or even an infection.
But, Dr Boockvar says not to go running to the neurologist. He says that tumors and serious medical conditions are rarely the underlying causes of anxiety and panic attacks.
In fact, Chasin is one of the first adults in which doctors have been able to document these symptoms, says Dr Boockvar.