CLEVELAND – November is Epilepsy Awareness Month and a new device is changing lives.
Kathleen Valdez was 25 years old, in her second year of law school at Cleveland State, planning a wedding and mommy to a baby girl, when she had her first seizure.
"I don't remember two days of my life, My husband tells me I didn't recognize my own daughter," Valdez said. "My mom, I guess, found me on the floor, convulsing."
The world traveler says after several doctor visits, she was diagnosed with epilepsy; a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbances, stemming from abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
"If I take this medication, will it not go away, but will it get better? Will I stop having these seizures? Will I ever be able to drive again," she said.
While taking medications, Valdez learned she wasn’t a candidate for surgery due to the seizures happening so close to the part of the brain that controls language.
However, she was a candidate for a new, implantable device called Responsive Neurostimulation.
"There's a computer chip in here that we teach to look and train this device to look at the epileptic activity in the patient's brain," said Cleveland Clinic surgeon, Doctor Dileep Nair.
Dr. Nair says when that activity occurs, the device delivers a charge to control the seizure.
"These devices aren't curative right away, it doesn't, in all patients stop the seizures immediately. It modulates this activity over years," Dr. Nair explained.
An at-home RNS device monitors Kathleen’s brain activity daily, which is then sent electronically to her doctor for review.
Valdez had the implant surgery in September 2018 and hasn’t had a seizure since. She’s now spending more quality time with family and recently had her driving privileges restored.
"Which is a big step, I've had to rely on Uber and my husband and my family and carpooling almost the last five years of my life."
The battery life for the RNS device is seven years, so Valdez will have to undergo another surgery in just a few years.
There are currently 3.4 million people living with epilepsy in the United States, making it the 4th most common neurologic disease.