A DMC Neurologist and Neurosurgeon install a nerve stimulator in a young patient to try and control his epileptic seizures.
A Stimulating Discovery: Vagus Nerve Stimulator treats Epileptic Seizures
Twenty-one year old Kerry Wilson suffers from Epilepsy. For more than half his life, he has experiences seizures up to several times a month. He describes them as “Black-out” like experiences – generalized seizures in which neurons all over his brain are misfiring, causing him to black out and sending his body into convulsions.
“I can’t drive,” says Kerry. “Hard to find a job, because you have to tell people that you have seizures and they back off.”
Kerry and his family sought help from DMC Neurologist Dr. Aashit Shah and Neurosurgeon Dr. Sandeep Mittal. Doctors Shah and Mittal suggested a Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) procedure, which, while not a cure, could significantly improve his quality of life.
Dr. Mittal explains: “The vagus nerve is a large nerve arising from the brain and traveling down into the neck. It goes to a host of organs, including the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, and so on. By connecting an electrical stimulator to the vagus nerve in the neck, and delivering a small electrical charge every few minutes, seizures can be minimized or eliminated.”
The mechanism works by disrupting the synchronized discharges of some of the body’s natural electrical signals. This reduces the frequency and severity of the seizures. The procedure involves implanting a pulse generator, which acts like a small battery, similar to a cardiac pacemaker.
In surgery, Dr. Mittal makes two incisions, one below the shoulder and one in the neck. First, he finds and isolates the vagus nerve. Then, he implants the stimulator near the shoulder, under the collar bone. He then runs wires under the skin to connect the stimulator to the vagus nerve in the neck. He also tests the device before finishing the procedure.
After Kerry wakes from the anesthesia, he spends a few hours in the recovery area, and is able to go home with his parents that same afternoon. A few weeks later, his incisions healed, Kerry returns to see Dr. Shah. His incisions are healing well, and he has not had a single seizure since the procedure.
Dr. Shah activates and programs the device in his exam room. He instructs Kerry and his parents on how to use a special magnet to activate the device immediately in the event of a seizure, by swiping it gently across the stimulator in Kerry’s shoulder. Dr. Shah will adjust the stimulator level over the next few weeks, with the goal of eliminating all seizures, or reduce them to as few as possible.
Kerry’s father, Kerry Wilson, Sr., describes the whole experience this way: The neurosurgeon we have now, it’s the firs time in 11 years that we ever had somebody who took the time or the effort to do everything that’s been done. Everyone else just offered medication, or changed his medication. There was nothing concrete like the procedures that have been done for him now. I’m very pleased with Dr. Shah.”
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