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YOUR HEALTH: Using lasers to fight seizures

The minimally invasive procedure also has fewer lasting side effects.

NEPTUNE, New Jersey — Three and a half million Americans have epilepsy – a condition where abnormal activity in the brain causes seizures, which are periods of time where a person loses awareness. When medications don’t work to minimize seizures, surgery may become the only option. Now, there’s a minimally invasive brain surgery that is giving people their lives back.

Skye Cotler was a competitive cheerleader at Rutgers University, and she was on her way to a concert with family and friends when her world changed without warning.

“One of my friends noticed that I was turning blue or purple and that's the last thing I remember,” Skye recalls.

Skye woke up in an ambulance and when she got to the hospital, doctors determined she had a benign tangle of blood vessels in her brain that would bleed, causing seizures. Doctors recommended major brain surgery to correct the problem.

Skye thought, “They were going to shave part of my head and go in that way.”

Invasive brain surgery would have diminished the risk of seizures but also meant Skye could have lifelong migraines and other side effects. Ten days before her scheduled surgery, Skye found Dr. Shabbar Danish, a neurosurgeon at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Dr. Danish and his team use a special laser therapy called MRI Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy, or LITT. Surgeons drill a hole about an eighth of an inch wide and insert a special laser into the skull.

“The laser is a very small fiber, probably, thinner than the end of a ballpoint pen,” Dr. Danish explains.

Surgeons use MRI guidance to find the precise area of the brain they need to treat. When the laser is heated to between 113- and 140-degrees Fahrenheit, it causes treated cells to die.

“The next morning, I was standing, walking around but it was crazy because if I had gotten the regular craniotomy, I would've been out for a week or two weeks,” Skye exclaims.

Now, Skye is healthy and living life seizure-free with no restrictions.

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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