For Patients with Epilepsy, Novel Technology Brings New Hope
Education & Research For the 30 percent of patients who don't respond to available medications, epilepsy can be extremely debilitating. A new treatment, however, may offer a lasting solution.
There was a time when Ian Olsen was convinced he would be forced to live with seizures his entire life. Olsen, 27, began experiencing the episodes at age 11. They occurred up to 20 times each month.
“When I experienced seizures, a strong aura came over me with a sense of dizziness and disorientation,” he explains. “I lost consciousness for one to two minutes. The next thing I’d remember was a feeling of confusion and drowsiness, while unfamiliar with my surroundings.”
Multiple seizures in a 24-hour period would result in Olsen forgetting the entire day, putting him at risk. “They prevented me from driving. They led me to being fired from jobs. They caused distress for me and for those close to me. My wife Kathleen described feeling helpless, being unable to do anything for me during a seizure."
It took several neurologists to obtain a correct diagnosis. Olsen was prescribed different medications that provided no relief, left him worn out or resulted in side effects. At one point, Olsen was told he was an ideal candidate for laser surgery. A specialist however, determined that because of where the seizures originated, the operation wasn't an option.
But there was another choice.
Giving technology a chance
In 2015, Olsen had a device implanted that recorded his brain’s electrical activity and showed the seizures as they occurred. Olsen's doctor analyzed details and met regularly with him to adjust the degree and timing of the stimulation. The technology was a dramatic turning point for him, and he wasn't alone.
At 23, Courtney Derr began having partial complex epileptic seizures, traced to a birth defect. Her eyes would move rapidly back and forth behind closed lids while she twiddled her fingers. Traditional brain surgery wasn't viable. VNS therapy didn't help. Embarrassed and on disability, Derr ultimately learned about implant technology at a seminar, and underwent the procedure last year.
“It soon reduced the frequency and severity of my seizures. Over the course of a couple of months,” she says, “the seizures steadily diminished. As my doctor has fine-tuned my medications, I’ve reached the point where I am close to being seizure-free.”
Says Olsen, “I can live each day, and complete each task, knowing I won’t be inhibited by a seizure. I am more mentally capable. I can hold my five-month-old baby girl knowing a seizure won’t put her in danger.”
Despite some memory issues, Derr is also more confident, as if her "chains have been broken," she sums, and she's been set free. “I’m grateful to my husband, family and friends who have supported me. When they see that I’m able to laugh and joke again, they tell me I have a sparkle to me now."