At the age of 26, Yamini Karanam, a PhD student at Indiana University's School of Informatics, suddenly started having trouble in school. The once brilliant student was finding it difficult to understand basic information or to communicate with friends and colleagues. She was constantly tired and slept for two weeks straight.
"Then came the headaches. Slips and misses at work," she wrote on her blog. "There were doctors. First, a couple of them and then more."
The doctors found what they believed was a cyst on Karanam's pineal gland, a small oval shaped structure located deep in the center of the brain. She visited more doctors to figure out what to do, but neurosurgeons hesitated to operate because they said the location of the tumor posed a lot of risks for surgery.
Then she found a surgeon, Dr. Hrayr Shahinian at the Skull Base Institute in Los Angeles, who specializes in a minimally invasive technique for extracting tumors from deep within the brain. In the procedure known as "keyhole surgery," a small incision is made in the back of the head through which a surgeon inserts an endoscope to reach deep within the brain and extract the tumor.
Shahinian agreed to treat Karanam and performed the surgery earlier this month. Then the story took a strange twist.
When Karanam awoke, she discovered that the mass in her brain was a teratoma: a tumor made up of different types of tissue that oftentimes contain hair, teeth and bone. While their origins are not entirely clear, some experts believe teratomas may arise when cells of an embryonic twin are absorbed into a the body of a developing fetus.
Karanam jokingly told NBC Los Angeles that her embryonic "evil twin" that never developed "has been torturing me for the past 26 years."
Teratomas are extremely rare. Shahinian, who has taken out nearly 8,000 tumors, said that this was only the second time he's seen one. He tested it to ensure that it was not cancerous and said that he expects Karanam to make a full recovery.
Karanam's friends set up a fundraising campaign for her medical expenses on Giveforward.com.