Saturday, May 12, 2007

Surgery gives hope to Epileptic patient!

After 15 years of life-threatening, grand mal epileptic seizures that seemed untreatable, Teresa Farley met her angel of mercy in the form of Greenbrier Valley neurologist Dr. John O. Collins.
Within a year of treatment by Collins, Farley has suffered only a single seizure, a far cry from the sometimes five-a-day epileptic episodes that made her life miserable.

“It’s a blessing from God,” Farley, of Neola, said of the Vagus Nerve Stimulator, which is implanted in her chest and helps prevent her seizures by sending an electrical jolt to the brain. “My entire life has changed.”

Farley’s former life consisted of daily, unconscious-rendering grand mal seizures that struck at all times of the day and night. Sometimes the violent shaking of her body and subsequent muscle tension — which caused her fingernails to cut into her hands — lasted up to 15 minutes and left her exhausted for hours. In a medical oddity, Farley can sometimes predict when a seizure is about to strike because of phenomenon called “auros.”

“It’s a classic temporal lobe syndrome,” Collins explained Wednesday. “Some people smell things before a seizure, some people get panicked, and I’ve known others that just take off running.”
Previously, an aura was the beginning of frightening episode, but now when she smells natural gas, Harry, her husband of four years, jumps into action.

“Right before I have a real bad seizure, I have a strong smell of natural gas,” Farley said. “That’s when my husband swipes me with the magnet.”

The small magnet that Harry has connected to his watchband triggers 1-2 milli-amps of electricity in the VNS device implanted in Teresa’s chest. The device is a bit bigger than a silver dollar. The minor surgery is done on an outpatient basis by an outside surgeon.

Teresa also carries a magnet, in case a seizure strikes while she is in the bathroom, which is all that separates this couple from their daily routine of managing her epilepsy.

“It’s basically a magnetic switch that turns on a pulse generator,” Collins said of the VNS, which is produced by the Houston company Cyberonics. “This electrical impulse stimulates the Vagul nerve and that sends a signal to the brain which disrupts the abnormal behavior in the temporal lobe.”


Teresa’s life-changing medical procedure came after accompanying her husband to Collins’ office, the Neurology Clinic in Lewisburg, where Harry was being treated after undergoing two back surgeries. During one of Harry’s office visits, Teresa had a seizure in front of Collins.
“When she became a patient of mine, she had been on a number of medications, and at that point I considered her to be a refractory seizure patient (unresponsive to treatment,)” Collins said. “So we started to look at some options, which included VNS.”

As part of Teresa’s seizure management, Collins balances drug prescriptions with VNS therapy, a balance that may be different with each of the 10 to 15 patients who have VNS devices under his treatment. Collins said the cost of visits to his office are covered by most major insurance carriers and the $25,000 implantation procedure is usually covered as well.

The VNS device is also marketed as a treatment for depression, and Teresa believes this has also helped her overall happiness in life.

“The goal is to come up with the right combination which will produce the best quality of life,” the doctor said.

Collins described Teresa as “doing well” in her VNS epilepsy treatment, and an interesting bonus developed after the Farleys began managing their health problems.

“Mr. Farley was so eaten up with his wife’s problems that as we started helping Teresa, he started to get better, too,” Collins said. “He didn’t have to worry about her so much.”

Although Collins admits that VNS therapy doesn’t work for everyone, for the Farleys, it’s been a blessing that’s allowed them to live a fuller life.

“I never let this magnet out of my sight,” Harry, 54, who has been married to Teresa four years, said. “She has had only one grand mal seizure in the last year. The magnet has made a world of difference.”


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