Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pacemaker can control seizures

Life has changed - and very much for the better - for Dan Brewer ever since he got a pacemaker for his brain.

Born with epilepsy, which runs in his family, Brewer grew out of it, as many children do - until he was hit in the head by a line-drive while pitching in Little League at age 14.

After that, Brewer began to suffer severe seizures, sometimes four or five times a day.

These were not grand mal seizures, which typically involve relatively brief and intense convulsing. These were blackouts that last ten or 15 minutes, followed by being in a zoned-out state for two or three days.

As an adult, the condition kept Brewer, 19, from driving and forced him to move back home with his mother in Palatine. It also forced Brewer to miss work for days or months at a time, which he said kept him from getting promotions on the job.

He tried a bewildering array of expensive medications, but none stopped the seizures, and many had nasty, stupefying side effects.

So when Brewer heard about vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, he was eager to try it.

Neurologist Prashanthi Boppana implanted a small battery disc in Brewer's upper chest and ran a thin wire under the skin to the vagus nerve, which transmits signals to help control the electrical impulses in the brain that cause seizures.

For epileptics whose medications don't work, VNS is not a cure, but it helps lessen the frequency and severity of seizures, and can reduce reliance on drugs.

Brewer now suffers attacks only once every six weeks or so, they're less severe, and he recovers much more quickly. If he feels a seizure coming on, as epileptics sometimes do, he can pass a special magnet over the implant to activate the signal and help quell the attack.

Now, Brewer has been promoted to a supervisory position at his job at Wal-Mart, where his insurance covered most of the cost of the surgery. He also hopes to get a driver's license.
He gets mild laryngitis and a brief shortness of breath when the device goes off for a few seconds every few minutes, but he's gotten used to it, and is glad to have more control over his life.


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