The 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.
At 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.”
Gatlin-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.