Life uninterrupted following epilepsy surgery

Brain Health

by Koren Temple-Perry

May 31, 2017

As a child, Megan Kidd remembers waking up in a daze, unsure of her surroundings. Sometimes she would find herself in another room. Other times trying to recall what she said a few moments before.

“I didn’t understand what was happening, or why I would say or do weird things, then totally black out,” said Megan, now 39, and living in Oklahoma City, OK.

Doctors believed Megan was suffering from mild seizures at the time but assured her she would grow out of them.

Uncontrollable Seizures

As time passed, however, Megan’s seizures became worse. During college, she began blacking out during her exams. And when working out at the gym, she would sometimes seize and fall off the treadmill. When she started her career in marketing, there were times when she would unintentionally walk into random offices.

“I was scared every day that I would totally embarrass myself,”
Megan said. “I tried my best to live as normally as I could.”

Megan sought help for her worsening condition, and this help came in the form of an intense medication regimen. By her late 20s, Megan had been on various combinations of 28 medications — some of which affected her memory, caused hair loss and led to the deterioration of her teeth. They also caused complications with her liver and led to Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a severe drug reaction that causes a life-threatening rash.

Throughout the medication changes, her condition remained a puzzle, for which MRIs could not pinpoint and medication therapy failed to solve. It was increasingly frustrating for Megan, who was in a constant fog, feeling like her life was crumbling around her.

The final straw was when she succumbed to a seizure while driving — not once, but several times, with the last accident totaling her car and leaving her unable to drive safely.

Megan was at the point where enough was enough. She needed an intervention to regain control of her life again. 

Turning to Epilepsy Surgery

After losing her ability to drive, Megan’s local neurologist proposed something drastic: brain surgery to isolate the location of the seizures and to remove the offending portion.

“He told me it would be a long shot and it involved some risk. But I would much rather take the chance to live, than to live scared every day.”

In June 2016, she received a referral to the epilepsy program at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, a comprehensive program for the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of seizure disorders.

After an initial evaluation and workup by Sadat A. Shamim, MD, an epileptologist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, she was diagnosed with refractory partial complex epilepsy, a severe condition caused by focal seizures of one side of the brain that fails to respond to drug therapy. Although scary, it was a relief for Megan, who went for years without a proper diagnosis.

In order to qualify for epilepsy surgery, however, her care team needed to determine the areas of the brain responsible for the seizures. She was admitted to the epilepsy monitoring unit and taken off her medications to induce seizures. Using MRI scanning and video EEG monitoring, her neuroradiologist was able to localize the origin of her seizures so it could be targeted for surgical treatment. Her care team then used the Wada Test to determine which side of her brain controlled language, reasoning, concentration and memory as a way to assess if she was a good surgical candidate and to stratify her risk.

In September 2016, after an intensive three-month evaluation and diagnostic process, Megan’s care team felt she was an acceptable candidate for epilepsy surgery. During the day-long procedure, her neurosurgical team performed a functional cortical mapping procedure to “map out” the exact location of the seizures. From there, she underwent a temporal lobectomy, a brain operation where part of the anterior temporal lobe along with the amygdala and hippocampus are removed.

Following a short-lived recovery process, the surgery proved to be a success for Megan.

“Epilepsy surgery is extremely rewarding for both the patient and care team,” said Richard Naftalis, MD, a neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “It can be a life-changing cure as good results can lead to patients being seizure-free, off or on medication. This allows for a marked improvement in quality of life, education and employment opportunities.”

Experiencing a New Life

Like 80 percent of surgical epilepsy patients, Megan has been seizure-free since undergoing the procedure and continues to take one medication to prevent the return of her seizures.

Now, more than six months since her surgery, she has a new lease on life: she’s gone back to pursue her master’s degree and has advanced her marketing career. While once afraid to bike down the street, now she’s picked up cycling among other athletic pursuits. She no longer fears falling off a treadmill and has since joined a new gym. But best of all — she gets to drive again, a privilege many epilepsy patients gain following surgery.

“It is extremely satisfying when a patient comes in for a follow-up visit and shows you their driver’s license. It becomes a new liberating experience,” Dr. Naftalis said.

For Megan, the ability to drive again represents freedom she didn’t think she could ever have — freedom from fear and daily worry.

Now, she simply lives life uninterrupted.

About the Author

Koren Temple-Perry is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience writing about health, wellness and medicine.

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