Epilepsy surgery can be more than just a means of correcting the abnormal electrical activity in the brain that causes seizures. For patients like Robyn N., it presented a window of opportunity and a chance at a new beginning.
Robyn’s first seizure occurred at age 35 on a night like any other, except this time, she awoke to three strange men asking her if she knew her name or that of the current president. Afterward, she learned her husband had called the paramedics when she started convulsing and screaming in her sleep.
The first responders took Robyn to Overlook Medical Center’s Level 4 Epilepsy Center, where Jeffrey Politsky, MD, determined that she had suffered an epileptic seizure originating from abnormal electrical activity in the right temporal lobe of her brain. To control the symptoms, he prescribed a low dose of a drug called Trileptal.
“I couldn’t accept that there was something wrong with my brain,” says Robyn, who as a registered pharmacist, was quite familiar with the medication’s benefits and potential side effects. “I wasn’t convinced I really needed the drug, so I didn’t take it right away…until I had more seizures.”
While at a continuing education conference for pharmacists, Robyn walked to the front of a packed auditorium to pick up some handouts. The next thing she knew she was in an ambulance being transported to a local hospital.
“The seizures were the bane of my existence,” says Robyn, who by then, was on a higher dosage of Trileptal in addition to another medication. “I was a health care professional and what was happening to me, without warning, at work, in public and at home was humiliating.”
The final straw came in 2013 when Robyn had a seizure while driving her children to school and struck a utility pole. The injuries were minor – Robyn suffered whiplash and her son a cut on his forehead – but Dr. Politsky suggested that it might be time to explore the option of epilepsy surgery.
“At that point, I was ready for anything – even surgery,” Robyn says. “I was having seizures at least once a month and it was no longer safe for me to drive.”
In addition to safety issues, Robyn had sore muscles and memory loss from the seizures and her medications were causing tremors and extreme tiredness.
Robyn spent two weeks in Overlook Medical Center while Dr. Politsky conducted a thorough examination to record the seizure activity and determine where it originated in her brain. This preliminary testing included continuous video-electroencephalogram (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetoencephalogram (MEG), positron emission tomography (PET), Wada and a neuropsychological evaluation – all of which were reviewed and discussed by an entire team of epilepsy specialists.
“A final evaluation with intracranially implanted electrodes confirmed that Robyn’s seizure activity originated in one specific area of the brain – the right temporal lobe. She was an excellent candidate for surgery,” says Dr. Politsky.
Ronald P. Benitez, MD, director of surgical epilepsy at Overlook Medical Center, along with Theodore H. Schwartz, MD – both of whom have extensive training in epilepsy surgery – successfully removed the brain tissue that was the source of Robyn’s pain and suffering.
“I haven’t had a seizure since the operation and I’m totally off the meds,” says Robyn, who’s now five years removed from the date of her surgery.
Free of the debilitating seizures, Robyn was able to jumpstart her career. After a decade working in the pharmacy at hospital in Newark, she was promoted to Principal Clinical Informatics Analyst – a highly technical job developing and maintaining complex patient data systems.
What’s more, the woman who hardly danced began pursuing an interest in music in her spare time. She perfected her dance moves while recovering from the surgery and more recently, trained to be a disc jockey in a studio near her job. She also frequently plays the piano.
“Life is just beginning thanks to my epilepsy surgery,” Robyn says happily. “I am actually a new and improved version of my former self.”