For the past nine years, Sheri Finstad has lived with uncertainty. Prone to epileptic seizures, Sheri never knew when she would have another seizure or how long each episode might last. “Initially, the seizures were only during my sleep and didn’t have much of an impact. However, over time they became stronger, and I could no longer do the things I loved to do, such as go for a drive after work, because they were impacting my consciousness,” she tells us. The seizures began to affect her job. They also caused her physical injuries from falling on steps and in the shower.
Sheri began seeing Cheolsu Shin, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist, and tried several therapies, including medications, a ketogenic diet, vagus nerve stimulation, and intracranial mapping. The standard therapies and diet changes didn't make much of an impact. That left them to consider surgery to remove the part of the brain causing the seizure. However, in Sheri’s case, the seizures were attributed to several parts of her brain, and surgery would include risks such as memory loss.
There was another surprising option, however. Our friends at Minnesota Public Radio report that in October 2014, Sheri became one of two patients to be treated with a type of deep brain stimulation therapy used to treat some patients with Parkinson’s disease. Electrodes were placed in Sheri’s brain and connected to two small stimulators, similar to pacemakers, implanted just below her collarbone. The stimulation is constant, but Sheri says she does not know when they are on.
It may be some time before the Food and Drug Administration approves the therapy for general treatment of epilepsy patients, but Sheri’s case is helping physicians understand the brain’s reaction to epilepsy. Matt Stead, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo neurologist who is overseeing the treatment tells MPR, "We can see exactly what our stimulation does to the ongoing activity in the brain. That will allow us ... hopefully to understand better what patterns and types of stimulation are most likely to suppress their propensity toward seizures."
Since her surgery, Sheri has had only one epileptic episode but has suffered from dizziness and headaches. Dr. Stead attributes that to “auras,” which he describes as the beginning of an epileptic episode. That may indicate that the stimulation device is working to stop the seizures before they get started, Dr. Stead says. While study on the device and its impact continues, the results so far are clear to Sheri. “I might start crying,” Sheri tells MPR. “This could be working.” (Our fingers are crossed.)
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