‘It's like night and day’: Implant helps woman control epileptic seizures

Advancements in the control of epileptic seizures have some people with this condition living a near-normal life.


Advancements in the control of epileptic seizures have some people with this condition living a near-normal life.

"They last about 30 seconds to a minute and it feels just like impending doom and disorienting," said 29-year-old Hannah Thomas.

Epilepsy is typified by random seizures and affects nearly 3.5 million people in the United States.

Thomas was in college when, what she thought were panic attacks, were diagnosed as epileptic seizures.

"Sometimes I would have a few a day. I'd go a day without having them and then I'd have like five in one day," Thomas said.

For nearly six years, her condition didn't improve.

"I learned after trying numerous medicines that my epilepsy is resistant to medication," she said.

Medication and surgery were not an option, but there was one more chance.

"And then Dr. Rao introduced me and said, 'I think you are the perfect candidate,' and at that point, I had nothing else to lose so I just went for it," Thomas said.

The Dr. Rao she is referring to is neurologist Vikram Rao of University of California San Francisco.

"Two-thirds of people can get their seizures under control with medication. Unfortunately, Hannah was not one of those people. We tried a lot of things and her seizures persisted," Rao said.

Rao recommended putting an implant into Hannah's head that could relieve her seizures.

"With wires that go into the brain and we place the wires where seizures come from, near the epicenter of the seizure, in earthquake terms," Rao said.

The monitor detects the onset of a seizure, and the unit sends electrical pulses to the area to stop the seizure.

"If it hears that a seizure is about to start, it responds to that detection by delivering some electrical pulses to the seizure focus, and those pulses can stop it in their tracks before it causes the individual any trouble," he said.

For Thomas, the implant has been a godsend.

"I'm slowly dipping my toes back in the pond. I'm going to continue my education. I'm more self-reliant. I'm less fearful," she said.

And getting back to what her life was before the onset of seizures includes being able to drive again thanks to technology that watches over her.

"It's like night and day. It's like before I didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel and now I feel like I know there is something for me," she said.

Since the implant procedure, Thomas has had very few seizures and the severity is also greatly lessened.

She had put her education on hold and now wants to go back to college and study social work.