Ja’Lisa’s Journey: Reclaiming Life after Epilepsy

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In her early 20s, Ja’Lisa Thomas was enjoying life — teaching preschool and expecting her first child — until something went very wrong. She was stopped at a red light on her way to the market when she experienced her first seizure. Her car drifted into the intersection but thankfully was not hit by oncoming traffic. After that, the seizures kept coming.

Despite trying multiple medications, by the time she was 30, Ja’Lisa’s condition forced her to stop working and driving. But even taking those precautions wasn’t enough. One evening Ja’Lisa had a seizure while cooking. She fell onto the hot stove and had to be pulled off by her father. At this point, she knew that neither she nor her 6-year-old daughter was safe on their own. Her parents moved in to help care for them both.

It was clear that Ja’Lisa needed to have someone with her at all times, and that loss of independence felt devastating. Shortly after, she agreed to participate in a research study with Emory Brain Health Center.

Life-Changing Medical Monitoring and Research

At Emory, Ja’Lisa had a team of neurosurgeons, epileptologists (a doctor who specializes in epilepsy) and researchers working on her case. Her team included Emory neurosurgeons Robert Gross, MD, and Jon Willie, MD, alongside neuroscientist Cory Inman. Their goal is to treat patients with epilepsy so that they can live a life with no seizures and no side effects of treatment.

As part of their research, patients like Ja’Lisa begin their journey by spending time at Emory University Hospital having their seizures recorded. After analyzing the data, the team can begin to identify the source of the patient’s seizures and other abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Knowing where in the brain seizures are starting helps surgeons deliver the best treatment.

Precise, Effective Treatment

For many, the next step in treatment is the Stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) procedure, which provides a complete understanding of activity deep within the brain. During the procedure, surgeons use a robotic assistant to help locate the precise areas of the brain where more monitoring is needed. Then the surgeon will drill small holes into the skull and implant the electrodes that will monitor brain activity.

After the electrodes are implanted, patients spend more time in the hospital having their seizures monitored. As part of the research program, patients may rest or perform tasks like video games and other computer activities to stimulate and monitor brain function.

During this phase of treatment, the team is looking for more information about where seizures are originating, but they are also conducting research about how the brain retains memories. By developing a stronger understanding of how memory works and finding ways to improve it, the team hopes to find ways to help people struggling with memory problems caused by conditions such as epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s.

In the weeks of monitoring following an electrode placement, the neurosurgery team can then identify the precise source and location of seizures. The discovery of the exact source allows the team to treat each patient with precision and gets them one step closer to their goal of no seizures and no side effects.

No Seizures, No Side Effects

As part of Ja’Lisa’s treatment plan, she underwent Stereotactic Laser Ablation (SLA), a procedure that uses a device to heat up the tips of the electrodes in order to ablate (destroy) the five areas where her seizures were originating.

For some, ablation is enough to stop their seizures. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Ja’Lisa. She had six seizures in the 10 hours following her ablation. This indicated that the proper areas were being targeted, but that not all of the damaged tissue had been destroyed. Ja’Lisa underwent another surgery — this time using lasers to destroy the rest of the damaged areas — and this procedure was a success.

A Happy Ending

After almost seven years of battling epilepsy, Ja’Lisa finally has her happy ending. Now 31, Ja’Lisa is back to work, able to drive, and is enjoying her independence. Her parents were able to move out and Ja’Lisa and her daughter are living safely and happily on their own. She’s not had a single seizure since her surgery. For Ja’Lisa and her family, modern medicine, research and faith delivered the miracle they have been praying for.

If you have been diagnosed with epilepsy, the experts at Emory Epilepsy Center can help you monitor your condition and determine the best treatment option for you.

or call 404-778-7777.

About Your Fantastic Mind

Emory University and the Emory Brain Health Center have partnered with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) on a television series, Your Fantastic Mind, which features compelling stories on brain-related health and wellness.

Your Fantastic Mind will begin airing season 2 in April 2020 on GPB’s statewide television network. The news magazine-style show highlights patient stories and reports on cutting-edge science and clinical advances in neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, sleep medicine and rehabilitation medicine.

Season 1 of Your Fantastic Mind examined topics including sleep apnea, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, PTSD, Huntington’s disease, migraines and video gaming disorder, which has been designated a mental health disorder by the World Health Organization.

Jaye Watson is the show’s host, writer and executive producer. She is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning veteran Atlanta journalist and video producer for the Emory Brain Health Center.

Emory Brain Health Center

The Emory Brain Health Center uniquely integrates neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, rehabilitation medicine and sleep medicine and transforms patient-centered care for brain and spinal cord conditions through research and discovery. Bringing these specialties together allows more than 400 researchers and clinicians from different areas to collaborate to predict, prevent, treat or cure devastating diseases and disorders of the brain more rapidly. These collaborations are demonstrated in numerous centers and programs across the Brain Health Center, including the Epilepsy Center, Pituitary Center, Stroke Center, Treatment-Resistant Depression Program and Veterans Program.

Emory’s multidisciplinary approach is transforming the world’s understanding of the vast frontiers of the brain, harnessing imagination and discovery to address 21st century challenges.

Learn more about comprehensive, diagnostic and innovative treatment options at the Emory Brain Health Center.