Spectrum Health first in nation to utilize device for epilepsy treatment

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Spectrum Health says the use of a device also used in the treatment of Parkinson’s is a “breakthrough” in helping to combat epilepsy.

Epilepsy is one of the most common brain disorders in the world, with around 4 million people battling the condition nationwide, Spectrum Health doctors say. In Michigan, that number is approximately 109,000. 

“A lot of people don’t understand how debilitating it can be,” Tracey Dool, whose son battles epilepsy, said. “They think that people have a seizure and they can just get up and go take the trash out or get up and go do the dishes. Their body has to recharge and their mind is sometimes not there and a lot of people they don’t realize that.”

Her son Derek Dool was 6 years old when he started having seizures, but because he could talk during them, it took a long time for doctors to diagnose him with epilepsy.

“It affected me throughout school and it stopped me from being able to play football, which was my dream,” Derek Dool said. 

When he turned 18, he started seeing a team at Spectrum Health and began a therapy known as vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS. His mom said he went from having 150 seizures per night to maybe one. But after some years his body adapted and the frequent seizures returned. 

Doctors recommended deep brain stimulation, or DBS, which involves surgically implanting a small pacemaker-like device in the brain. It connects with a lead and sends electrical signals to certain parts of the brain.

“We were afraid to do it, I mean, because it’s in your brain,” Tracey Dool said. “We got to a point where it was just like, you know what, that’s what we have them (doctors) for. We have to trust them and let them do it.”

Now there’s a brand new system that works with the DBS device. It’s called SenSight and it has the ability to record brain signals.

“It’s a significant breakthrough in the treatment of epilepsy,” said Dr. David Burdette, the section chief for epilepsy at Spectrum Health.

Spectrum was the first in the state to utilize the new technology on a patient with Parkinson’s and the first in the country to use it on a patient with epilepsy. Derek Dool was that first patient. 

“It essentially allows for a more personalized approach to delivering this therapy,” said Dr. Sanjay Patra, Derek’s surgeon and the director of epilepsy surgery at Spectrum.

Doctors say it also gives Derek Dool’s mom the ability to control his seizures through a machine. 

“It makes you so helpless when your child’s in a seizure and all you can do is hold their hand and talk to them, but if you have a device that you can help stop them, it gives me power to help him,” Tracey Dool said. 

While there is still a long way to go, she said she and doctors are hopeful the device will work even better as Derek Dool gets older. The goal is to wean him off certain prescriptions that are taking the biggest toll on him physically.

Tracey Dool said she believes the SenSight is giving her son a brighter future:

“This is actually what’s keeping us going now. We’ve got some more hope now.”

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