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Pacemaker-like device helps epileptics live seizure-free

Meredith Engel

More than three million Americans suffering from epilepsy may be spared a lifetime of horrific seizures. The potential breakthrough: a simple pacemaker-like device inserted into the brain.The NeuroPace RNS system can be used when neurosurgeons don’t want to remove part of a patient’s brain — currently one of the more popular approaches to treatment.

“If you restart a part of the brain where that seizure is occurring, then in that area the seizure stops and doesn’t influence the rest of the brain,” said Dr. Werner Doyle, an NYU Langone neurosurgeon. He’s implanted the NeuroPace RNS in 17 patients.

One of those patients is Chelsea Loeb, a 26-year-old preschool teacher from Morristown, New Jersey. She has had epilepsy since she was 15.

Her seizures aren’t the stereotypical fall-to-the-floor convulsing, which are called grand mal seizures.

“I have the type where I zone out, have déjà vu and don’t really comprehend what’s going on around me,” she said.

A doctor discovered she had a scar on her temporal lobe and put her on meds. They controlled her seizures for a few years. But when they came back with a vengeance and started happening twice daily, Loeb knew she had to bring in the big guns. After all, seizures increase the risk of cognitive problems and sudden death, plus shorten life expectancy.

Loeb couldn’t have the piece of her brain where the seizures originated removed because it also housed her memory and language skills. The NeuroPace RNS system seemed to be the better option. So Loeb had two surgeries in November: the first, to determine where exactly the device needed to go, and the second, to implant it.

Three months later, Loeb is back home and recovering, hoping to return to the classroom soon. While the ultimate goal is for her to be seizure-free, she recently went 25 days without one. Another goal: getting off the lingering meds she has to take, which impair her fertility.

To give her doctors a reading of her condition, she can hold a wand up to her head, where the implant is located, and watch as a computer downloads her brainwaves and sends the information to her doctors. It helps them see how the implant is working and if they need to make any adjustments.

Loeb has started a blog to educate others on the device. She says she’s excited to see what her doctors learn from her case.

“I don’t want other people to go through what I did for 11 years,” she said.

PUBLISHED: Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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