Epilepsy Patient Stories

We have been able to treat thousands of people with epilepsy. Here are just a few of their many stories.

Bill Barnhill

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Bill Barnhill had suffered from seizures for 53 years. His first seizure occurred at age 10. Medications helped, but they never cured him. He continued to suffer from both petit mal and, sometimes, grand mal seizures.

Bill did his best to lead a normal life. He went to college and even swam on the school’s team. Though Bill was able to do the things he loved most, he was also still experiencing the often-debilitating seizures.

Eventually, the traditional epilepsy medications – Dilantin and phenobarbital – started to take a toll on Bill’s body, especially his liver.

The seizures became more frequent and severe because the medications were no longer effective which restricted his world further. As an accountant, Bill was soon challenged with even the simplest tasks, such as reading. At age 61 he was forced to retire.

Bill was then referred to the Seton Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at the Seton Healthcare Family. The program is the only Level 4 Epilepsy Center in Central Texas providing comprehensive epilepsy care for adult patients with epilepsy. A Level 4 Epilepsy Center is based upon guidelines recommended by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers.

After a series of tests and presenting Bill’s case to the entire epilepsy team, doctors determined that he was a candidate for newer laser technology: Visualase. Visualase uses a cutting-edge, minimally invasive surgical procedure called MRI-guided laser ablation.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Lee performed the operation to destroy the small area of Bill’s brain that was causing the seizures. See animation of the laser procedure.

Bill’s laser procedure was a success, and to this day, he is seizure free.

Just five months after his surgery, he and his wife took a trip to New England to see the leaves change. It’s the first time in decades that they were able to enjoy a vacation without the fear of Bill experiencing a seizure.

“I never thought there would be a day when I wouldn’t suffer from seizures. This would have never happened without my doctors at Seton and with the newer technologies now available,” said Bill.

He’s looking forward to doing things most people take for granted like driving, playing golf and going to the gym. The Barnhills’ next adventure will include a trip to the Bahamas, where Bill is looking forward to swimming in the clear, blue water.

Dramatic Newton

Dramatic Newton, a 35-year-old Austin man, has finally regained the self-confidence he lost 14 years ago when he was diagnosed with epilepsy. He suffered from partial complex epileptic seizures that would literally stop him in his tracks. Dramatic’s form of epilepsy is known as temporal lobe partial epilepsy and is one of the most common forms of epilepsy, affecting millions of Americans.

Dramatic’s epilepsy seizures started when he was 22 years old. After his epilepsy diagnosis, he began treatment with anti-seizure medications. However, traditional epilepsy medication treatments proved ineffective. Even vagal nerve stimulation – a treatment in which short bursts of electrical energy are directed to the left vagus nerve in the neck – didn’t help improve Dramatic’s symptoms.

“The seizures take away a lot of confidence if you know you have them. You put yourself in public surroundings and wonder, ‘What if I have a seizure while I’m doing this?’” says Dramatic.

Wishing to eliminate his seizures completely, Dramatic researched epilepsy surgery. Dramatic feared that his search for an epilepsy specialist would lead him to San Antonio, or beyond. Soon, he learned that the experts at Seton could evaluate his condition and tell if he was a good candidate for epilepsy surgery.

Dr. Jason Shen, an epileptologist, oversaw Dramatic’s treatment. “For patients who have medication-resistant seizures, we usually consider surgery a good treatment option,” explains Dr. Shen.

In December of 2009, Dramatic underwent video EEG monitoring at the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) at University Medical Center Brackenridge in Austin. The EMU has a dedicated staff that is familiar with continuous seizure assessment.

Dramatic also underwent neuroradiological imaging studies, a complete neuropsychological evaluation, and a WADA test that identifies which side of the brain is dominant for language and memory. This helps surgeons determine which area of the brain is suitable for operation.

On January 4th, 2010, Seton neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Buchanan performed an anterior temporal lobectomy. Before the surgery, Dramatic had video EEG monitoring to localize the seizure focus and ensure the surgery would not affect his language or speech. From there, Dr. Buchanan was able to precisely remove the small area of the brain causing the epileptic seizures.

Dramatic’s surgery proved successful – since the operation, he has been completely seizure-free. He says he feels more confident at work and has recently started back at his favorite hobby of deejaying. He is very optimistic about the future.

Hugo Lopez

26-year-old Hugo Lopez is thankful for the ability to play basketball and touch football. Most young men would take this for granted, but seven years ago, Hugo was thrown a curve ball that changed his life forever. He contracted viral meningitis, a disease that causes swelling of the brain. After a prolonged coma, he survived, but developed severe epilepsy as a result.

Hugo experienced frequent and severe seizures that landed him in the ER several times a week. “It was very scary. Sometimes I didn’t know if he was breathing during his seizures. We were at the hospital all the time,” explained Hugo’s mother, Gloria.

Hugo was on medication to try and control his seizures for five years. Last spring, doctors thought epilepsy surgery would be his best treatment option. They needed to find out where the seizures originated in his brain, so he had what is called intracranial EEG monitoring.

Seton neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Lee performed Hugo’s intracranial procedure. During the operation, Dr. Lee placed electrodes directly on the surface of Hugo’s brain to help map out the various areas that were potential seizure triggers.

“Intracranial mapping is just one of the latest advancements in epilepsy diagnostics that we’re able to perform to help treat and ultimately restore a sense of normalcy to patients who suffer from this chronic, often debilitating disease,” explained Dr. Lee.

Hugo then went to the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) at University Medical Center Brackenridge (UMCB) where he was continuously monitored for a week. The EMU is part of the Seton Healthcare Family’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, which is the only Level 4 (highest level) adult epilepsy program in central Texas.

The dedicated five bed area at UMCB provides live monitoring that lets doctors intervene as seizures occur. Physicians can also monitor the impact of certain seizure medications and, in Hugo’s case, determine where the seizures originated in his brain. Surgeons used the information from the monitoring unit to plan a very precise surgery to remove the tiny area of the brain that was causing his seizures.

“Hugo now has the ability to lead a productive life thanks to the advances in epilepsy care at our Comprehensive Epilepsy Program,” said his epileptologist, Dr. Jason Shen. “Our epilepsy center is where many different physicians with subspecialty training and expertise come together to work as a team to offer comprehensive care for each individual patient. We have epileptologists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, a neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist working together to help patients in all different aspects of their care.”

Hugo’s surgery dramatically improved his quality of life. “I haven’t had a big seizure since July. I feel much better. Now I can play a little basketball and even some touch football. But not tackling – I can’t hurt my head.” And the scar that still peeks through his hairline? “If people ask me about my scar, I tell them, ‘I had brain surgery.’ I’m proud of that.”