More than 5 million people in the United States have a history of epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most active cases of epilepsy can be well controlled with medicine but some people, like 18-year-old Collin May of Ohio, struggle with the disease and find little relief in common therapies.
Some days, May would have more than 50 seizures and he was exhausted.
“At night I would have the seizures and wouldn’t get a lot of sleep at all and then I’d wake up and be tired and that would give me more seizures,” said May. “And I would go to school and you know, getting a lecture in class, and I’d have another seizure.”
"There were time periods where he was pretty much a zombie. I had to come to the realization that my son, as I knew him, was literally gone."
Seizures controlled May’s life and medicines weren’t working so his family sought help at Cleveland Clinic where a newer type of brain surgery was available using lasers.
"There were time periods where he was pretty much a zombie," says Collin's father Todd. "I had to come to the realization that my son, as I knew him, was literally gone. It was troubling kneeling at the bedside every night just weeping. It was rough."
The surgery is minimally invasive and May was left with just a single stitch to close the incision – compared to traditional brain surgery which involves a large incision, opening the skull and a lengthy recovery.
During the operation, doctors used sophisticated mapping tools and pinpointed the exact spot in the brain that was causing the seizures. Then, using what Jorge Gonzalez-Martinez, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon in Cleveland Clinic’s Epilepsy Center, calls a special type of “GPS”, a tiny laser probe was inserted into the problematic area.
“We produce a lesion that’s caused by the heating of the tissue around this laser,” said Dr. Gonzalez-Martinez. “We’re talking about a small lesion caused by this laser probe, maybe one cubic centimeter, very small, but very well precise in place.”
Once doctors felt the area causing the seizures was completely burned away, they removed the probe and closed the incision with one stitch.
Dr. Gonzalez-Martinez said most people are advised to rest for one week and then can return to school or other regular activities.
May hasn’t had a seizure since his surgery and he’s wasted little time taking advantage of his new freedom.
“I’ve been riding the motorcycle a lot,” said May. “Looking forward to actually joining the Marine Corps now that I’m able to, hanging out with friends, going out and doing a lot of things I couldn’t do before.”
According to Dr. Gonzalez-Martinez, people may want to consider laser therapy if they have focal epilepsy and haven’t had success controlling their seizures with medicine.