Stopping seizures, curing epilepsy

March 23, 2011 10:15:50 AM PDT
Nearly three million Americans have some form of epilepsy, a condition that causes violent, sometimes dangerous seizures. It can destroy lives, taking away people's independence, robbing them of the ability to think clearly and embarrassing them in a crowd. Now, an improved surgery is helping these patients. It stopped one man's seizures for good.

Six-year-old Caleb and 4-year-old Simeon are all boy. They love cars and trains. But taking care of his boys was difficult for their dad -- even dangerous -- when Victor Vanderhoof suffered unpredictable seizures.

"Basically, I would black out, and I wouldn't really know what was going on," said Vanderhoof.

Medications didn't help. He even had a seizure while driving with his older son in the car. The last thing he remembers was pulling off the interstate.

"I jumped the ditch, going through the retaining wall," said Vanderhoof.

No one was hurt, but victor was torn apart inside.

"I remember saying to God one day, just said, 'Hey, I can't deal with this anymore. I'm going to give you an option. Either you take my life or you fix this problem," said Vanderhoof.

Then, he found Dr. Joseph Neimat at Vanderbilt University who told him about a less-invasive type of surgery.

"With the surgery, about 70 percent of patients will be seizure-free or nearly seizure-free," said Dr. Neimat.

A team of doctors performed extensive scans and tests on victor's brain and found his seizures were located in the hippocampus. They then surgically removed a small piece of tissue in that area.

Victor went from having three seizures a week to having none. For three years, he's been seizure-free -- with no meds. His wife even sent his doctor a letter writing "epilepsy stole all quality of life from Vic and eventually our entire family" and "this surgery changed this."

"For a surgeon, these are the best cases. It just makes such a difference in these patients' lives," said Dr. Neimat.

"Just not being afraid that something's going to happen," said Vanderhoof.

Now, he can drive, and more importantly, be a dad without his health holding him back.

Dr. Neimat says this surgery is not an option for patients if doctors cannot pinpoint the area of the brain that is causing the seizure. Traditional surgery required a bigger incision, and surgeons removed a larger piece of tissue. Doctors have had the same success with this less-invasive surgery, and patients recover more quickly.