Doctors at Texas Children's Hospital give new hope to epilepsy patients


by Leigh Frillici / KHOU 11 News

Posted on July 19, 2011 at 9:59 AM

HOUSTON—There’s new hope for patients with hard-to-treat epilepsy. 

Doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital have developed a new treatment to destroy the lesions in the brain that normally cause seizures.

By using real-time, MRI-guided, thermal-imaging technology, doctors have found a less-invasive and more accurate way to get to the lesions.

A tiny hole is cut into the skull—the size of the tip of a pen—and then a laser probe is inserted and MRI imaging is used to find the lesion. Surgeons can then use a laser to destroy the lesion.

"This not only allows us to control the destruction of the lesions, but it also is equipped with a feedback system that allows the system to turn off automatically when vital structures nearby this lesion heat up," said Dr. Daniel Curry, a Texas Children’s Hospital neurosurgeon who pioneered this surgery for epilepsy patients.  

The procedure has been used before in patients with brain tumors with much success. Dr. Angus Wilfong, the medical director at Texas Children’s Hospital, came up with the idea to try the treatment on Epilepsy patients.

"There’s a huge number of people (about 800,000) that can benefit from new technology that can cure and stop these seizures," said Dr. Wilfong.

One of the first people Dr. Wilfong and Dr. Curry treated was 9-year-old Keagan Dysart. He’d had seizures all his life, and they weren’t the kind you’d expect.

Keagan’s seizures sounded like a laugh. Doctors say the electrical impulses of Keagan’s brain that were misfiring were affecting the part that controls laughter. His parents say he was laughing at inappropriate times, that it sounded out of place and that they thought it was a behavioral problem.

A neurosurgeon discovered he was having seizures. They would happen two to three times an hour. He also had episodes that looked like the more classic type of epilepsy symptoms - convulsing and passing out. His parents were desperate to get him help.

"It sounded almost like a maniacal giggle," said Khris Dysart, Keagan’s Dad.

"His anxiety level was very high," said Robin Dysart, Keagan’s mom. Robin feels her son was always worried about the next seizure.

Keagan wasn’t responding to medication. They knew they didn’t want to try the traditional surgery for seizures. It involved an craniotomy, where a large section of the skull has to be removed before surgeons can go deep into the brain to find the lesion. The surgery had too many possible complications, like paralysis or blindness.

In Robin Dysart’s eyes, this new procedure had risks, too. It had only been done on two other children with epilepsy. It was a tough decision, but Dr. Wilfong and Dr. Curry’s helped them make their decision.

And it went better than anyone had planned.

Keagan is now seizure-free.

"Mommy and daddy have a new a new child," said Keagan Dysart.

His parents’ eyes filled up when they heard that.

"He’s noticing things he’s never noticed before, like he’ll notice a sunset," said Keagan’s mom.

And there was something else. The giggling he made during his seizures was the only laugh Keagan’s parents had ever heard from their son. After the surgery, it was a different story.

"There was Keagan watching TV, laughing not having a seizure, he was really laughing," said Keagan’s dad.  

"The first time we heard him laugh," Dysart said, choking back tears. "Pretty incredible."

Keagan’s doctors now think this story of success will change the way countless seizure victims are treated around the world.

They said the treatment is now available for other epilepsy sufferers who qualify.

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