Hope for those who suffer seizures

KINGMAN ­ Dr. Jim Bates and Dr. John Conn, partners in Tri-State Surgical Associates with offices in Kingman and Bullhead City, have performed the first implant in Mohave County of a device designed to stop epileptic seizures.

The thoracic/cardiovascular surgeons implanted a Vagus Nerve Stimulator into the left side of the neck of a Kingman woman in her 70s on Jan. 24 at Kingman Regional Medical Center. The operation went smoothly and took about 30 minutes, Bates said.

The unidentified patient has been plagued with epilepsy for several years.

"We hope that if the VNS does not do away with the attacks it will cut down on the number of seizures she has and allow her to reduce the amount of medication she is required to take for her seizure disorder," Bates said.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurring seizures resulting from electrical abnormalities in the brain. A seizure leads to a change in sensation, awareness or behavior for brief periods in those afflicted with epilepsy.

Roughly 2.5 million Americans, about 1 percent of the total population, have epilepsy, according to information on the Web site of the Epilepsy Foundation of America.

The VNS is similar in appearance to a heart pacemaker. It has a lead implanted to stimulate the vagus nerve in the neck and a pulse generator sewn into the patient's shoulder

The device stimulates the vagus nerve at regular intervals, sending an impulse to the brain that wards off seizure activity and depression that often accompanies it, Bates said.

"Some patients experience an aura, which is a sensation they're going to have a seizure," he said. "When that happens they can take a magnet device to make the VNS even more active and forestall seizure activity."

Medicare and the Food and Drug Administration have approved the device and some private insurance companies will pay for its implantation, he said.

Some 30,000 device implants for epilepsy have been done nationwide since FDA approval of it was granted in July 1997. Last year, the FDA approved it as a therapy aid in treating chronic depression, Bates said.

Cyberonics, headquartered in Houston, Texas, manufactures the VNS. Information on the company Web site states studies have shown that vagus nerve stimulation also affects areas of the brain associated with norepinephrine and serotonin neurotransmitters, which are associated with improvements in the treatment of depression.

The VNS therapy system is at various levels of clinical study as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders, Alzheimer's disease, bulimia and chronic headache/migraine, it further states.

Bates has practiced in Mohave County for eight years and the recent device implantation was his first.

"This is a new treatment for epilepsy and depression and I anticipate it will have great benefits in cases of chronic depression, which a lot of epileptics suffer," Bates said.