MAYWOOD, IL – By the time epilepsy patient Erika Fleck came to Loyola Medicine for a second opinion, she was having three or four seizures a week and hadn’t been able to drive her two young children for five years.
“It was no way to live,” she said.
Ms. Fleck experienced complex partial seizures, characterized by a deep stare, unresponsiveness and loss of control for a minute or two. An MRI found the cause: a small area of scar tissue in a structure of the brain called the hippocampus. The subtle lesion had been overlooked at another medical center.
Loyola epilepsy specialist Jorge Asconapé, MD, recommended surgery to remove the scar tissue in her brain that was triggering the seizures. Douglas Anderson, MD, chair of neurological surgery, performed the surgery, called an amygdalohippocampectomy. Ms. Fleck hasn’t had a single seizure in the more than three years since her surgery.
“I’ve got my life back,” she said. “I left my seizures at Loyola.”
Surgery can be an option for a minority of patients who do not respond to medications or other treatments and have epileptic scar tissue that can be removed safely. In 60 to 70 percent of surgery patients, seizures are completely eliminated, and the success rate likely will improve as imaging and surgical techniques improve, Dr. Anderson said.
Traditionally, patients would have to try several medications and experience poor results for years or decades before being considered for surgery, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. “More recently, surgery is being considered sooner,” the foundation said. “Studies have shown that the earlier surgery is performed, the better the outcome.” (Ms. Fleck is a service coordinator for the Epilepsy Foundation North/Central Illinois Iowa and Nebraska.)
Dr. Asconapé said Ms. Fleck was a perfect candidate for surgery because the scar tissue causing her seizures was located in an area of the brain that could be removed without damaging critical structures.
Epilepsy surgery takes about three hours and patients typically are in the hospital for two or three days. Like all surgery, epilepsy surgery entails risks, including infection, hemorrhage, injury to other parts of the brain and slight personality changes. But such complications are rare and they pose less risk to patients than the risk of being injured during seizures, Dr. Asconapé said.
The National Association of Epilepsy Centers has designated Loyola a Level Four center – the highest level of specialized epilepsy care available. Level Four centers have the professional expertise and facilities to provide the highest level of medical and surgical evaluation and treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.
Loyola's Epilepsy Center offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to epilepsy and seizure disorders for adults and children as young as two years old. Pediatric and adult epileptologist consultation and state-of-the-art neuroimaging and electrodiagnostic technology are used to identify and assess complex seizure disorders by short- and long-term monitoring.
The Epilepsy Foundation provides individual and family assistance, advocacy and epilepsy education. For more information, call (815) 964-2689.