In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

October 11, 2016

Pharmacist Shares ‘Life-Changing’ Effects of Epilepsy Surgery to Help Others

By In the Loop

After years of taking medications to control her epilepsy, Sarah Clark’s care team at Mayo Clinic came to her with a surgical option that could eliminate that need. And in the 11 years since, she says the rewards have been “life-changing.”

When Sarah Clark was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2001, she assumed she was destined for a lifetime of taking medications to control the seizures caused by the disorder. And for the better part of three years, that's what happened. Although the epilepsy didn't interfere with her work, Sarah, a pharmacist at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, tells us "the medications had a pretty negative effect on my personal life."

In addition to robbing her of energy, Sarah tells us the epilepsy medications also got in the way of her and her husband's family planning. "The risk of being pregnant while taking the kinds of medications that I was on … that's obviously something you think about," she says. So when Sarah's care team at Mayo Clinic — including neurologist Gregory Cascino, M.D., and neurosurgeon Richard Marsh, M.D. — came to her in 2005 with a surgical alternative that could eliminate the need for medication, Sarah considered the proposal.

As Dr. Cascino tells the Rochester Post-Bulletin, the procedure — which includes surgically removing "the area of the brain causing the seizures" — is not a guarantee. "Even in the most favorable groups, we say 60 to 70 percent being seizure-free, meaning that a third of the patients will continue to have seizures," he says. "That's an important, adverse effect that the patient has to consider." Sarah also had to consider how the surgery could affect the way her brain functions. "That was my biggest concern — what would I be like — what if I'm not me?" she tells the paper.

As the P-B reports, Sarah decided to go through with the surgery. And in the 11 years since, she says she's experienced nothing but positive, life-changing results. "The very first and most prominent thing that changed after the surgery is that I was able to come off of the medications," she tells us. "That by itself has greatly improved my quality of life."

Another positive outcome? Sarah and her husband were able to start a family without worrying about her medications. "Being able to have three healthy children since the surgery has also been life-changing for me," Sarah says.

Asked why she's sharing her story now — 11 years later, and for the first time publicly — Sarah has a simple, yet important response: to help others. "When I was diagnosed, I had no idea this kind of surgery could ever be an option for me," she tells us. "If there are others out there who are dealing with the same kinds of things, maybe reading my story could be the tipping point for them to explore the surgery for themselves. Because it's a quality of life issue … it really is. And mine has been so dramatically changed by this surgery."

You can read the rest of Sarah's story here. Then, help improve our quality of life by sharing your comments below. Use the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.

Tags: Dr Richard Marsh, Dr. Gregory Cascino, epilepsy, Patient Stories, Sarah Clark, Staff Stories

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