November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that can affect anyone, regardless of race, age or gender.
The Mayo Clinic just published a case report of a western Wisconsin man who suffered more than 1,400 epileptic seizures a year and is now seizure free.
The Mayo Clinic’s message is: There is new hope for people with epilepsy to regain their quality of life.
Eric Walthall is an avid outdoorsman. The 52-year-old from Woodville, Wisconsin loves to hunt and fish. But Eric’s epilepsy made it impossible for him to do what he loved. He had 120 seizures a month, four a day. He could not work, drive, or attend his children’s activities.
“Well, I don’t think we knew any other life for us,” said his wife, Melissa Walthall. “Because it’s been a part of our lives for so many years, epilepsy, and we’ve just adapted.”
But Eric never felt hopeless. “Never. I always knew something was going to happen,” he said. “And what gave me that is my faith. I knew God would heal me, and I knew He would.”
After 12 surgeries in five states over 36 years, Eric’s quality of life didn’t improve until he came to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“Mayo wanted to blow the park up,” Eric said. “That was my mindset.”
Eric took medication, but medication doesn’t work for a third of the people. The good news for the 3.4 million Americans living with epilepsy is that there are more ways than ever to find out what works.
“A lot of research has been done in recent years,” said Dr. Brian Lundstrom, a neurologist. “And many new additional treatments in the toolbox for patients with epilepsy.”
It starts with diagnostic tests.
Eric started with an EEG test.
“EEG, or electroencephalography, is a diagnostic test,” Lundstrom said. “So we often start with a scalp EEG, and we get sort of a ballpark from which seizures can start.”
In addition, neuropsychologist Dr. Eva Alden used a NeuroMapper tool developed by Mayo before and during surgery to better understand the relationship between Eric’s brain and behavior. By asking questions, she established a baseline for his cognitive function, which they later use to compare against test scores.
“It helps us adapt the way we monitor them in surgery,” Alden said. “So that we know that we are not doing anything that leaves patients with functional deficits. And it’s really useful for that.”
Eric also had a Stereo Electroencephalogram (SEEG). The surgeon temporarily inserted electrodes into his brain to find out where his seizures were happening. Using the same electrodes, he then had radiofrequency ablation, in which heat from an electric current treats brain tissue. For some people, this stops their seizures. While that didn’t happen with Eric, it helped pinpoint where they came from.
After monitoring his symptoms for several weeks, it was determined that Eric’s best treatment option was to come back and have traditional surgery to remove brain tissue that was causing his seizures.
He was “awake” during this operation and talked while the surgeon stimulated his brain. dr Alden used the NeuroMapper again to ask Eric questions, comparing it to his pre-surgery tests and reporting how he responded so the surgeon would know it was safe.
It worked. Eric’s medication has been fine-tuned, and the Mayo Clinic recently released his case report, in which he shared the news with the world that he hadn’t had an epileptic seizure in nine months.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to hear when you’re involved in helping someone go from having hundreds of seizures a month to having no seizures at all,” Alden said. “It’s really cool, it’s great. That’s why I love my job.”
“A key message is that there are reasons for continued hope,” Lundstrom said. “It’s an exciting time. And we find new ways to help patients every day.”
“It changed my life,” Melissa said. “It was such a relief for me emotionally and mentally.”
What is Eric’s message for other people with epilepsy? “Don’t give up, don’t give up. Manage your own health care. And I can’t say enough about mayo.”
Mayo Clinic is now embracing many innovations in epilepsy treatment and research, such as:
Read Mayo Clinic’s full case report of Eric’s treatment below: