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Minimally Invasive Treatment Gives Hope to Epilepsy Patient

June 21, 2024

Matt R. had struggled with epilepsy for as long as he could remember. From the time he was 2, he’d been on medications to control his seizures that would work for a month or two, but then he’d outgrow them and need an increased dose or a new medication entirely.

“It was this spinning wheel I was on for the first 17 years of my life,” says Matt, now 29.

For 10 years, though — from the time he was 17 until he was 27 — Matt’s seizures went away, and he and his parents, Mark and Elaine, were lulled into a false sense of complacency. Although they had discussed surgical options with Matt’s doctors, “I was just afraid, to be honest with you,” says Matt. “I didn’t want to have brain surgery.”

Then, in January 2022, Matt had a seizure while he was driving that caused an accident. He was forced to give up his driver’s license until he could be seizure-free for six months.

At that point, Matt, who works on the New Jersey Department of Transportation's roadway design team, was ready to consider surgery.

An Effective Alternative to Open Brain Surgery

“I had heard about laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT), and it was something I was interested in pursuing, especially because it was supposed to be very effective without involving open brain surgery,” says Matt.

LITT uses an MRI machine to guide a small probe with a laser, which delivers precisely controlled heat to unhealthy brain tissue. Once considered an emerging procedure, LITT is rapidly becoming standard practice and is an effective alternative to open brain surgery for conditions like brain tumors and certain types of epilepsy, says Ronald P. Benitez, MD, a neurosurgeon at Atlantic Brain and Spine, who is known for pioneering minimally invasive epilepsy surgery and robotic surgery for epilepsy monitoring and treatment.

“LITT provides major advantages for patients, including shorter hospital stays and a lower risk of complications,” says Dr. Benitez.

Matt met with Dr. Benitez a few months after the car accident to see if LITT might be an option for him.

Dr. Benitez ordered a series of tests, including a pre-surgical evaluation called a Wada test that assesses how each side of the brain functions independently. The test is used to help predict seizure outcomes post-surgery.

According to the test results, Matt was an ideal candidate for LITT. “All of a sudden, some of the darkness started to lift,” says Mark.

“The New Matt”

About two years after his car accident, Matt had LITT to treat areas of his brain that were causing seizures.

“Compared to other epilepsy surgeries out there, it was very minor,” says Matt. “I only had six small incisions in my head, and the scars faded very quickly. The fact that they didn’t have to cut my head open was one of the aspects of the surgery that was most attractive to me.”

Matt says another attractive part of going to Dr. Benitez for LITT was how much he and his team clearly care about their patients.

“I’m so glad I chose Dr. Benitez as my surgeon,” he says. “He always took the time to explain everything to me and was very down to earth. The surgery was a complete success. I haven’t had a seizure since, and it’s now been six-months-plus.”

Mark describes Matt today as “the new Matt.”

“He’s blossomed since the surgery,” says Mark. “Seeing him now, not zoning out or missing pieces of the conversation, is just awesome.”

Matt’s noticed the difference, too. “I was quiet and shy before the surgery,” he says. “Since the surgery, though, I’ve opened up more, especially when it comes to being more public about my epilepsy. I want to make more people aware of the disease. I don’t feel like epilepsy gets as much attention as it deserves.”