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YOUR HEALTH: Disrupting the brain to stop seizures

Pediatric neurosurgeons use an electrical grid to pinpoint where life-threatening seizures start.

NEPTUNE, New Jersey — One little boy struggled with epilepsy since just after birth – at one point, having up to 50 seizures a day. Pediatric neurosurgeons mapped out a procedure that disrupted the brain signals triggering his seizures.

Hydrocephalus is a condition where fluid builds in brain cavities, causing potentially damaging pressure on the brain. Surgeons implant a tube called a shunt to drain the excess fluid and relieve the pressure. But for some patients, health struggles don’t end there. As many as 35% of children born with hydrocephalus develop epilepsy, which includes life-altering chronic seizures.

Israel “Izzy” de La Cruz has gone through more in his five years than most people do in a lifetime. His mom, Shukreeah, was 30 weeks pregnant when an ultrasound technician detected something wrong.

Shukreeah remembers what the doctors told her.

“'Your son has hydrocephalus.’ And he's like, ‘That's basically water in the brain,’” she explained.

Doctors delivered Izzy by C-section and three weeks later, surgeons implanted a shunt to drain fluid. At just three months, seizures started and by 2018, he was having 50 seizures a day.

“He would just turn blue and purple. Those were probably the scariest seizures I’ve ever seen,” Shukreeah expressed.

Pediatric neurosurgeon at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Dr. Lawrence Daniels, explained, “These seizures were life-threatening at this point.”

Surgery was Izzy’s best option. Altogether, Izzy had nine brain surgeries, including one where Daniels removed a portion of his skull and slid an electrical grid on top of the brain to precisely measure the seizure activity.

“And if we could do that, there was an opportunity to disrupt that part of the brain and stop the seizures from spreading to the opposite side,” Daniels said.

Once doctors pinpointed the place where the seizures started, they were able to remove part of his temporal lobe to disrupt them.

Shukreeah knows Izzy suffers developmental delays but hopes with physical therapy, her son will crawl and then, someday walk and talk. Either way, she says Izzy is a gift.

“This little boy wakes up with a smile every single day, just to be grateful for life and to wake up,” Shukreeah said about her son.

Doctors say Israel is still on medication to control his seizures. The number of seizures has dramatically decreased – his mother says he’s gone from having those 50 seizures a day to just one.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Denise Hnytka at denise.hnytka@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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