Breakthrough surgery for epilepsy patients

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — There’s a breakthrough in surgery for epilepsy patients.

And, Yale New Haven Hospital is the only one in the Northeast, offering it. It is the end of a long journey and the beginning of a hopeful one for Chelsea Murallo, living with epilepsy since she was two-years-old. She is in early on this Tuesday, prepping for innovative brain surgery here at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The 22 year old is among the first to be implanted with a neuro-stimulator since it was approved by the FDA. “It has been rough, I’ve been on every medication,” she said.

Grandmother Janet Kerby explained, “as she has gotten older, it’s getting harder and harder to control it. Now it’s affecting her cognitive ability, it’s affecting her speech and it’s just sucking the life out of her.”

The standard surgical procedure is not an option for Murallo, because her seizures originate in two sites, one on each side of her brain.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Jason Gerrard pointed out, “temporal lobectomy is a very effective treatment for epilepsy but you can’t have a temporal lobectomy on both sides of the brain or it will create significant amnesia in patients. They won’t be able to form new memories.”

Murallo’s only option is inserting the neuro-stimulator inserted in her brain, which requires intense attention to detail.

“It’s kind a like a pacemaker for the heart in a sense, said Dr. Gerrard, “it’s trying to shock the brain out of having a seizure. It allows us to treat both sides at the same time.”

Doctors rely on the high tech intra-operative MRI, several times throughout the procedure. It scans the location, pinpointing the correct placement for the electrodes, which are connected to the stimulator.

Dr. Dennis Spencer, Chair of Neurosurgery, displayed the electrodes. “You can see it has four metal contacts. Then the electrode is hooked up to the generator. This is a computer battery, that’s responsible for the stimulation and for the detection of the seizures.”

It’s the latest option for patients like Chelsea, who are struggling with multiple medications.

“Once you’ve given a patient two medications, two drugs and they fail those drugs,” stressed Dr. Spencer, “you know they are not going to respond to any additional medications.”

The goal is to reduce the number of seizures and dosage so Chelsea can improve her quality of life.

Dr. Gerrard said, “when she first came she was a teenager, very vibrant and outgoing. She’s on five seizure medications now which keep her really kind of heavily sedated and withdrawn most of the time.”

“I want to be seizure free, said Murallo, “so I can get my driver’s license and go back to school.”

The surgery from start to finish is about 8 hours. Murallo is scheduled to remain in the hospital for the next few days.

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