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Medical Edge: Pacemaker for Epilepsy

Posted at: 11/20/2012 5:35 PM
By: Ellery McCardle

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- After years of working as a building contractor, Mike McKenna is back in school.

Severe epilepsy has him learning new skills and look for a new job.

"It changed my life completely. I haven't driven for about seven years now," said McKenna.

Medication doesn't help his seizures.

"They happen in my sleep. About every two weeks for the big one and then I have little small ones that happen a lot during the day," said McKenna.

Mike doesn't want surgery because removing the area of the brain where his seizures originate is risky.

Instead, Mike enrolled in a study at Mayo Clinic where doctors implanted an electrical stimulation device into his brain.

"Responsive neurostimulation. It's a device that's currently in research trials at this time," said Dr. Joseph Sirven of Mayo Clinic.

He says the device is like a pacemaker for the brain.

An epileptic seizure is an abnormal electrical disturbance of the brain. The device is implanted under the skin and four electrodes are attached to the outer layers of the brain.

The device monitors brain waves and when it senses abnormal electrical activity it fires electrical stimulation to stop the seizures.

"It's almost like shocking the seizure away," said Dr. Sirven.

Because Mike is in a clinical trial, he wasn't initially told if his implant has been turned on yet. But he has high hopes for the technology.

"I hope that I can have this thing control my seizures even just a little bit," said McKenna.

The device has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the U.S. But if the trial shows it decreases the severity and frequency of seizures, Dr. Sirven says many people with epilepsy will have another option for controlling their disease.