Dell Children's laser procedure offers hope to epilepsy patients

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by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist John Gusky and editor John Fisher

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on August 13, 2013 at 5:43 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 13 at 6:16 PM

AUSTIN -- Epilepsy patients who don't respond to medication have new hope. Specialists at Dell Children's Medical Center are the first in Central Texas to perform a new procedure that can change lives in just days, compared to months.

The thought of being rolled into an operating room for a procedure on the brain might scare most people, but not 16-year-old Keynan Martin.

"I would have went for any surgery really," said Martin. "If it changed the way it was I would have gone for it."

That's because for half his life, Martin has suffered from epilepsy -- an abnormal firing of brain cells. It can most easily be described as a short circuiting of the brain.  

"It was pretty harsh," said Martin. "It changed my life."

Like 30 percent of all epilepsy patients, Martin did not respond to medication, and traditional brain surgery had its risks.
 
"We have to be able to target an area of epilepsy," said Mark Lee, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Dell Children's Medical Center. "Epilepsy is not like a tumor where you can see it on the scan."  

Disturbing areas of the brain that affect language or motor skills are among the risks, but now doctors minimize those with a new minimally-invasive epilepsy treatment that uses a laser.

"There's a very thin probe that you can pass through the abnormal areas or close to the abnormal areas without affecting them," said Dave Clarke, M.D., an epileptologist & Medical Director of Dell Children's Epilepsy Program. "You can then ablate or get rid of the abnormal tissue leaving everything around it."

The ablation, or heating, of the abnormal brain tissue is the key.

"This is a game changer for us," said Clarke. "For myself and Dr. Lee to have this procedure that can offer children something they haven't been offered before is phenomenal."

So Keynan took advantage of it on July 26.

"Keynan was ready for a change," said Brein Martin, Keynan's mother. "As you know, as he got older the seizures and the epilepsy got worse. We had to choose something, and this was the best avenue.  It was just amazing. It's been a blessing."

"I was excited," said Keynan. "I wasn't nervous, nothing. It's just changed everything now. I don't have worry about going to bed and waking up with a seizure."

To date, only Keynan and two other patients have undergone the new treatment at Dell Children's.  The first was a 22-year-old Austin in June. Dr. Lee said traditional surgery would have left her blind. He says just days after this laser procedure, she left for an overseas vacation and hasn't suffered a seizure since.

For more information, click here.

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