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Pacemaker for Epilepsy: September 25, 2013

Nearly 2 million Americans are impacted by epilepsy, a neurological disorder where electrical signals in the brain are disrupted. Medications help minimize symptoms in most people. But for 30% of patients, drugs don’t work.

“I had a young lady, she was 39 years old; she was having seizures everyday. She couldn't work, she couldn’t drive, she couldn’t take her kids to school,” says Dr. Bertrand Fonji, general surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.

When their lives are disrupted, many patients turn their attention inward, to a pacemaker of sorts. Surgically implanted, it helps control seizure activity.

“It’s not necessarily a fix - it’s meant to identify the impulses,” says Dr. Fonji.

We all have two vagus nerves, one on each side of the neck. These nerves transmit impulses from the brain.

“We make an incision in the neck and find the vagus nerve and then get the leads on that vagus nerve and then tunnel that lead down to the generator which sits within the chest wall and is concealed underneath the skin,” says Dr. Fonji.

The stimulator sends short bursts of electricity to the brain to decrease activity that leads to seizures. It is programmed to deliver pulses at pre-determined intervals. If someone feels an attack coming on, they can activate the stimulator immediately, by placing a magnet against the device.

The device is also approved for children. Like toddler Logan Mendres, who suffered up to 100 seizures a day.

“In some people it eliminates them period. And some of them decrease the amount of seizures, right now we’d be happy with either,” says Kerri Mendres, Logan’s mom.

Undergoing the procedure - a price many will pay to calm the storm in their brain.