An estimated one in five children with epilepsy does not respond to medication. Now, patients and their parents are getting new treatment options with a medical breakthrough that uses lasers to stop the seizures.
When Jessie Fernandez was little, she woke up every morning scared.
"I was getting up every day thinking, 'What if I have a seizure today?'" said Jessie, who had her first epileptic seizure when she was 10. After that, she would have one, two, up to five seizures a day. "In our class, they don’t have desks or chairs. They have stools. So, I was just doing my work and I fell back and hit my head and they called the ambulance."
The seizures were caused by a small brain tumor. When medication didn’t help, her only option was an invasive brain surgery.
"Traditionally, the way we perform those surgeries is actually to remove part of the brain that's causing the seizures," said Dr. John Ragheb, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Miami Children’s Hospital.
Jessie had a different type of surgery, called visualase laser ablation. An MRI focuses on the target area. A laser fiber is inserted into the skull. Heat from the laser then destroys the tissue causing the seizures and the tumor.
"We can accurately target just the tissue we want to destroy and protect the surrounding normal areas," Ragheb said.
Today, Jessie doesn’t worry about seizures. She's focused on her future and hopes to become a neurologist one day.
Jessie is still seizure-free. Recovery from the procedure is quick. Most patients go home the next day, compared to a week in the hospital with traditional brain surgery. So far, the technique has been used on about 300 patients in the U.S. with many types of epilepsy. The doctor said the results seem comparable to traditional surgery, but it will take time to know for sure.