Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Deep Brain Stimulator for Epilepsy: Progress

The first time the Deep Brain Stimulator was activated, Robert’s seizures increased

No, that’s not supposed to happen. 

I deactivated the device but hoped we would be able to somehow, eventually, use all this new hardware in Robert’s body. The leads, the battery pack – everything he went through to get it cannot be for nothing. 

Robert’s neurologist sent me a message to come in at the end of August to try again. I was so happy that there was another way this device just might work! 

I had a management meeting at work in the morning and Robert’s appointment in the afternoon. My brain was getting a workout today! Good thing I had fresh memories of our beach vacation floating around in my head to keep the stress at bay. 

Dr. K, Robert’s epileptologist, came into the room as enthusiastic as ever. He clearly cares about his patients and is as disappointed when a treatment doesn’t work for Robert as we are. He will not be deterred, however! 

I sat with my list of questions and Robert sat with the box holding the Patient Programmer (basically, a phone with an app) and a wireless recharger (the part that goes over the battery pack in his chest). 

Dr. K explained that he talked with Stanford who conducted the DBS study that Robert had been in. The setting they used in the study was different than what Dr. K started with during the first activation. He was confident this different setting was going to have a better result. 

How will the setting be different? 

I am not a scientist but Dr. K was both patient and brilliant at explaining the process to me. I created a rudimentary illustration to show to my fellow non-scientists (apologies to any readers who are actually scientists!). 

Basically, the first setting had sections 1 and 2 activated. That created a constant electrical current in the brain but, for Robert, it was too much too soon and it caused him to have seizures. 

For this second try, only section 1 was activated. That allows for a more diffused electrical current which should be easier on Robert’s brain. We start at Setting A which is 2 milliamps in just that section 1 (in both leads). After two – four weeks I can increase it using the Patient Programmer and move the device to Setting B. That will deliver 3 milliamps – still in both leads but only in section 1. 

If all goes well, a month after Setting B is activated we can go to Setting C (4 milliamps). Dr. K says we can eventually get up to 7.5 milliamps but that there is no statistical difference in performance between 5 and 7.5 milliamps. 

I asked if we should leave it on longer this time if it does cause seizures again. Maybe Robert’s brain needs to get used to it? Dr. K said that might be a solution but also explained there were other settings he could try. He sounded very confident that we would be able to find a setting that worked for Robert. He said the amount of people that have an increase in seizures from the DBS is in the single digits. We just need to find the right setting for Robert. 

Photo of leads
(Credit: Medronic)

Once it was activated again, Dr. K asked Robert if he felt any tingling. Robert said he didn’t feel anything (that is not unusual but some people do have a sensation on one side of their body when it is activated. That’s nothing to be concerned about.). 

We talked about reducing his medications once we know it is working. Dr. K is very concerned about Robert continuing on the Depakote since it is affecting the ammonia levels in his liver so much (which causes confusion, sleepiness and mobility issues). 

If this DBS actually starts working I will be thrilled to start reducing the meds. Getting Robert to have more functionality and mobility not only helps him but us. It also would greatly help once we are no longer able to care for him (I have to think about these things). 

We left the office very hopeful (at least I did; Robert had long since fallen asleep while Dr. K and I talked about him). 

Robert had a couple of seizures over the next few days but nothing like when we first activated it. Eventually, they subsided. 

Was this working?? 

Not yet. Robert’s typical seizure cluster came pretty much on schedule (every 2 – 3 weeks) and his most recent one was a doozy. He had close to three dozen seizures in 25 minutes. Even his rescue med (Nayzilam) took longer to work than usual. 

Okay. The DBS at the lowest setting is not working. We didn’t really expect that setting to be the one that works but at least it didn’t cause more seizures. 

Three weeks after the initial re-activation and a week after the seizure cluster, I increased the device to Setting B. Robert did feel like he was being “tickled” once I increased the setting but it went away after a few minutes. 

The plan is to increase the device to Setting C in 3 – 4 weeks. If we see fewer seizures, that’s when we can start reducing his medications. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves or jinx anything since we just got to Setting B but we are on our way! 

I hope this information helps you understand the Deep Brain Stimulator from a patient or caregiver perspective. As I mentioned, I am not a scientist or a medical professional but I am happy to answer any questions about this surgery and the whole process. 

Thank you for following Robert’s journey to, if not seizure freedom, at least seizure (and medication) reduction. I know a lot of people are rooting for this to be successful! 

Oh, and to everyone asking the most important question: Yes, of course, Robert got a chocolate shake after the activation by Dr. K and chocolate ice cream after the increase to Setting B! 

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