Posts Tagged ‘emory epilepsy center’

Real Patients, Real Stories: Young Mother Seizure-Free After Epilepsy Surgery

Erin Gatlin-Martin Emory Epilepsy CenterThe seizures took control about once a month, rendering Erin Gatlin-Martin unable to drive. She couldn’t work, go see friends or run to the store. She was on three medications, but epilepsy and its effects still left her feeling frustrated and isolated.

“I was very dependent on my husband for everything,” recalled Gatlin-Martin, a resident of the Savannah area. “He was serving as my husband and chauffeur. That was very frustrating for me. I couldn’t run out to the grocery store if my child was feeling hungry and we’d run out of crackers. I couldn’t do the things I needed to do to get through daily life.”

Her physicians in Savannah had prescribed anti-seizure medications, which worked for a while but over time became less and less effective. Doctors added more pills and higher dosages, but about once a month Gatlin-Martin still experienced seizures, which for her would involve “zoning out” and shaking while falling asleep.

“Even though I was on three pills and very high dosages, it just wasn’t working anymore,” she said. “That’s when we went to Emory.”

Gatlin-Martin was among the roughly three out of 10 patients who don’t respond to anti-seizure medication and required a more in-depth level of care. Partly on the recommendation of a friend from church, she reached out to the Emory Epilepsy Center, beginning a year of driving back and forth between Savannah and Atlanta for testing.

Erin Gatlin-Martin with epileptologist Dr. Andres Rodriguez RuizAt Emory Healthcare, a multidisciplinary conference of several specialists weighed treatment options, including surgery. Under the care of epileptologist Dr. Andres Rodriguez Ruiz, Gatlin-Martin said she learned more about her brain and her condition than ever before.

“Here was someone more interested than anyone’s ever been at getting to the root of the problem,” she said. “It was a huge relief for me—OK, someone really cares and wants to know what the deal is here and how we fix it.”

Gatlin-Martin’s case required a right temporal craniotomy for an anterior temporal lobectomy, which is open brain surgery to remove a part of the brain responsible for the seizures. On April 19, 2018, neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Gross performed the eight-hour surgery on Gatlin-Martin. Though Gatlin-Martin knew serious risks were a possibility, she lobbied for the more invasive procedure because it carried a higher success rate. Despite a complication—she suffered a minor stroke during surgery—the outcome has been life-changing.

“It was something I felt like I needed to do for my quality of life and my family’s quality of life,” said Gatlin-Martin, who is mother to a toddler and underwent two and a half weeks of inpatient rehabilitation at Emory Rehabilitation Hospital before returning to Savannah. “I really wanted to be able to take care of my son, especially with him being so young.”

Erin Gatlin-Martin and husbandGatlin-Martin has experienced a vast improvement in her quality of life. She only has negligible residual effects, and she hasn’t had a seizure since her surgery over a year ago.

“I’m able to drive now,” she said. “I’m not always having to worry about whether I’ll have a seizure. I’m involved in a lot more activities. I’ve gotten more involved with church, I’ve been able to get to the gym more and I can take my son a lot more places. I’m weaning off my meds and will go to school this fall to pursue my MDiv (Master of Divinity) degree so everything is definitely going good.”

New and Advanced Approaches to Epilepsy Treatment

Epilepsy affects more than 110,000 people in Georgia, and over the years Emory specialists have been pioneering new and more effective treatment for people with drug-resistant epilepsy. It is essential to understand that surgical treatment for epilepsy is not a last resort. Modern epilepsy surgery is relatively safe and has a low risk of complications. Not everyone can be helped or cured by surgery, but it is important to know whether it is an option. For other people, there are newer medications, often available as part of clinical trials at Emory, and there are several implantable pacemaker-like electrical stimulation devices to help seizure control. However, surgery offers the only hope for a complete cure of epilepsy.

If you know someone who you think could benefit from a consultation with the Emory Epilepsy Center, you can visit the website at emoryhealthcare.org/epilepsy or call 404-778-7777 to make an appointment.

How Emory Epilepsy Center Helped a Young Athlete Take Control of His Life

At 17 years old, Terna Ityokumbul was like most high school students: consumed with friends, graduation and the future. Terna was an athlete all his life, and from a young age, he had a dream to play college football. As he continued to pursue this dream into his senior year of high school, he had a chance to make that dream a reality, receiving offers to play college football from multiple schools. However, there was one thing stopping him: his history of epileptic seizures. Terna suffered from what he calls “absence spells” in which he would lose awareness for about a minute. These were found to be focal seizures with a change in awareness. While these never affected his day-to-day life, for the first time, he realized his recent diagnosis of epilepsy could limit his future.

Despite these focal seizures, Terna was still able to play football. His episodes were infrequent, and he was able to see local doctors if he had any issues. Unfortunately, as time went on, Terna began to experience more severe and dangerous tonic-clonic seizures. This type of seizure is popularly known as “grand mal” and is the type of seizure most people envision when they think of epilepsy. Terna’s seizures began to spread to his whole brain, so that the staring spells progressed to convulsions with falling, then stiffening and jerking all over. While these were still only occasional, he began to recognize that his epilepsy now not only impacted his sense of well-being but could affect others as well.

At this point, while living in Pennsylvania, Terna’s life consisted of numerous tests, doctor visits, and overnight hospital stays. As one can imagine, this constant back and forth was leading to much frustration and exhaustion as it became almost a routine process for him. Along with this aggravation, Terna reached his breaking point after experiencing a tonic-clonic seizure so severe he dislocated his shoulder. Immediately, he decided to make health his number one priority and began researching epilepsy centers across the country. This is when Terna found Emory. After graduating from Bucknell University and looking for a new job opportunity, he became interested in Atlanta. Then after reading about Emory’s certified level 4 Epilepsy Center, Terna made his decision.

He made his move south and quickly booked an appointment with the Emory Epilepsy Center. He sat down with, neurologist, Dr. Edward Faught, director of the Emory Epilepsy Center, to create a plan that could provide hope for a long-term solution to his epilepsy. Of course, after seeing countless doctors and running every kind of test, Terna wasn’t entirely hopeful that he would ever find relief.

Eventually, he was admitted to Emory University Hospital so that his doctors could video record the seizures and estimate a source of abnormal brain activity using a scalp Electroencephalography test or EEG. During his first two days, he had two seizures which suggested a possible source of the seizures in his brain. His frame of mind instantly shifted as this was the first time a definite source of the seizures was found. Once his treatment team knew the origin of the seizures, it was time to make a game plan to treat them. Terna’s case was presented to an epilepsy conference meeting to decide what would be the best course of action. While this was going on, Terna was given different options to research so that he could make an informed decision about his care.

“Throughout the whole process there was constant communication from the entire team. This made me feel as if my case had a sense of urgency. It was very reassuring knowing that my epilepsy was just as important to them as it was to me,” said Terna.

To be sure of the source of his seizures, Terna’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Jon Willie, performed a procedure called “stereo-EEG.” This involved placing several thin platinum wires into the suspicious area of his brain to record the intracranial EEG during Terna’s seizures. This provided more certainty about the source of the seizures and suggested that a smaller operation would have a good chance of success.

After weighing his options, Terna and his physicians decided to move forward with a “stereotactic laser ablation” (SLA) surgery. This surgery is a minimally invasive laser-based procedure for people with medication-resistant epilepsy that can result in better memory function than standard operations while still providing comparable seizure control rates. Rather than having to undergo extensive open brain surgery, this surgery uses a tiny laser fiber reach and inactivates the focal part playing the most obvious role in the seizures. Emory neurosurgeons were the first to perform SLA in adults, and have completed more procedures of this kind than anywhere else. On Wednesday, April 4th, 2018, Dr. Willie performed Terna’s operation. That following Monday, Terna was back to work in the office with only a single stitch on the back of his head.

“It’s crazy how fast the recovery was, the worst part of the surgery was that I had a funny looking haircut for a few weeks,” exclaimed Terna.

Since the surgery, Terna has only experienced one seizure. He went from having 4-5 per month and now has only had one since April. When talking with Terna, he expressed how much this operation has improved his quality of life, not just for himself but for all of his loved ones as well.

Terna has now lived in Atlanta for three years, works as a senior buyer, and enjoys participating in sports recreation leagues and power training after work. His days no longer include trips to the ER or searching for answers. However, Terna has chosen to use his experience to “pay it forward.” Terna has been working with multiple Emory doctors in research trials to help improve treatment options for others. “There has been so much improvement in just the last 10 years, someone had to go through the research to develop the surgery I had, so I want to be able to give back and help someone 10 years down the road,” said Terna.

It is essential to understand that surgical treatment for epilepsy is not a last resort. If two or three anti-seizure medications have not completely controlled seizures, it is time to consider surgery. Modern epilepsy surgery is relatively safe and has a low risk of complications. Not everyone can be helped or cured by surgery, but it is important to know whether it is an option. For other people, there are newer medications, often available as part of clinical trials at Emory, and there are several implantable pacemaker-like electrical stimulation devices to help seizure control. However, surgery offers the only hope for a complete cure of epilepsy.

If you know someone who you think could benefit from a consultation with the Emory Epilepsy Center, you can visit the website at emoryhealthcare.org/epilepsy or call 404-778-7777 to make an appointment.