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Promising New Surgery For Epileptic Patients

More than 3-million Americans are affected by epilepsy. In about 40-percent of epileptic cases, drugs are unsuccessful and surgery is an option. Doctors at Texas Children's Hospital have a new surgical technique that is simpler and less risky than a craniotomy. Bill Stamps reports.



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When 9 year old Keagan Dysart was just a baby, he would break into a giggle every now and then — even when nothing particularly funny or amusing was occurring.

“It was actually very endearing when he was a baby. We just thought you know, he’s just tickled about something and he would he-he and it’s over.”

Robin Dysart says the giggles spurts continued for several years, but then Keagan starting having blackout spells. His dad Khris explains:

“There were things that he could do that he would be doing, playing games, reading books. He would have a seizure and he would completely forget where he was 30 seconds ago.”

It turns out those giggle spells, as well as the blackouts, were epileptic seizures. Doctors tried treating Keagan with drugs, but nothing worked.

Another option was a surgery called craniotomy. In these type cases, doctors can pinpoint the lesions on the brain causing the seizures. It’s getting to it that’s the problem.

The craniotomy involves cutting large chunk of skull — something the Dysart’s said no to. But doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital offered to try a new procedure — a laser surgery that required a small incision, but had only been used a few times.

This is Doctor Daniel Curry:

“Now we can use a hole that’s just 3.2 millimeters wide and we can pass this probe through the target. That’s all we have to do. We can make that hole through a four millimeter incision that requires a single stitch.”

The Dysart’s decided to give it a try and in March of this year Keagan went in for the new surgery. Khris recalls something that happened not long after.

“We got home a week later and Keagan was sitting in the living room, watching TV and Robin and I where doing something.  We heard laughter and both of us kind of stopped for a second. We went walking in the living room and looking around the corner and there was Keagan watching TV, not having a seizure. He was really laughing (emotional sigh). It was pretty incredible.”

Texas Children’s Hospital is the first in the world to use the MRI-guided laser surgery in this manner.  It’s been used to destroy brain tumors, but never in epileptic cases. Doctor Curry says the difference between the new surgery and the old one is much more profound when performed on children.

“Their heads are a significant portion of their surface, as opposed to you and I, our heads are a little bit smaller on our body. A craniotomy on a child is actually a large tissue injury in comparison to their body.”

Recovery time after the surgery can also be as little as one day.

The Dysart’s say Keagan is living a normal life now. At the news conference announcing the procedure he had these words for his Houston doctors.

“Thank you Dr. Curry. Thank you doctor Willfong. (applause)”



All images from Texas Children’s Hospital.

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