In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 28, 2017

Now Seizure-Free, Mayo Staffer Shares His Epilepsy Story

By In the Loop

When Matt Derechin’s epileptic seizures returned after a 20 year hiatus, his care team at Mayo Clinic helped him design a personalized approach to his medication that’s now kept him seizure-free for the past five years.

Matt Derechin was diagnosed with epilepsy at 19. The seizures that accompany the disorder have often disrupted his life, but a new treatment plan has kept him seizure-free for five years.

There had been signs leading up to Matt Derechin's first seizure. "It started with these episodes that were usually brought on by lack of sleep, where I'd get a jerking sensation in my hand," he tells us. "Or sometimes when I'd wake up in the morning, I'd be shaking a little bit. But it never progressed to a grand mal seizure."

Unfortunately, that changed when Matt, a communications specialist at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, was 19. "I was a freshman in college when I had my first full-on seizure," he says. Officially diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, Matt was placed on medication with the hope that he, like others with this mild form of the disorder, would simply "grow out of it."

"Over time, I was able to stop taking medication and was fine for the next 20 years," Matt tells us. But then came mile marker No. 6 of the 26.2 with DONNA, The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, in 2008. "I was running in that and was pushing myself pretty hard because I wasn't in the best shape," Matt says. "I remember running, and then all of a sudden it felt like there was this big wave coming up from behind me. Everything just went blank. The next thing I remember is waking up in the emergency room and people telling me I'd had a seizure."

Once he recovered, Matt went to see a neurologist who put him back on medication. "And then things were fine again," he says. "I'd have like a seizure a year for the next five years. Just one."

Just that one seizure, however, was enough to disrupt Matt's life, and the life of his family. "That's the thing most people don't realize about epilepsy, because even with just one seizure, and even with an epilepsy diagnosis like mine, which really isn't too severe, having just one seizure means you can't legally drive for six months," he says. "It really creates a lot of problems."

Then Matt came under the care of William Tatum, D.O., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic who Matt says has helped him create a treatment plan tailored to his body. That started with adjusting his medication. "I now take the largest possible dose of my medication, and that's been working," Matt says. "I haven't had a seizure in five years."

And as Dr. Tatum tells in a video story highlighting Matt's epilepsy battle, finding the correct medication — and the correct dosage of that medication — is key for epilepsy patients with forms of the disorder that aren't treatable with surgery. "We have new treatments, new mechanisms, new therapies that translate to good outcomes for patients," Dr. Tatum says. "Oftentimes, it's matching the medication to the patient to get the perfect coverage and control the seizures."

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Tags: Dr. William Tatum, epilepsy, Mayo Clinic in Florida, Neurology, Patient Stories, Staff Stories

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