Epilepsy Surgery Restores Patient’s Quality of Life

Patient experiences ‘unending wave’ of seizures prior to treatment

Ryan Adamkiewicz had reached one of the scariest points in his epilepsy—status epilepticus— when he and his team at the UC Epilepsy Center at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute knew that something dramatic needed to be done.

“Status,” as it is sometimes called, happens when seizures come one after the other, in unending waves. “Fifty or 100 or more. They just went on and on,” recalls Adamkiewicz’s father, Tom.  The solution for Adamkiewicz’s was epilepsy surgery, performed by Ellen Air, MD, PhD, at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, and today he is seizure-free and able to enjoy a good night’s sleep for the first time in four years.

Adamkiewicz had his first seizure at age 17, the day he had his senior pictures taken in high school. He was referred to the UC Epilepsy Center, where an epileptologist (a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy) treated him with medication. For the next five years the medications kept Adamkiewicz seizure free, and he then enjoyed five additional seizure-free years without taking any medications at all.

But Adamkiewicz’s seizures returned when he was 27, and the medications became less and less effective. The seizures interfered with his sleep, prevented him from driving and ultimately cost him his job when a supervisor thought he was faking a seizure. “I was at that point where I couldn’t sleep at night and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do during the day,” says Adamkiewicz.

Neurologists at the UC Epilepsy Center advised Adamkiewicz it was time to consider epilepsy surgery and referred him to Air. He had been through eight to 10 different medications, all to no avail. “It’s important to realize that while surgery sounds risky, experts agree that having uncontrolled seizures is also risky,” Air notes. “Seizures can lead to an accident, neurological impairment or, in some cases, even sudden death.”

The UC Epilepsy Center had the technology necessary to enable Air and her team to perform his surgery safely. Using simultaneous video and EEG in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at UC Medical Center—along with advanced brain imaging techniques—Air and neurologist Michael Privitera, MD, were able to find the location of the seizures –the seizure focus—and to ensure that removing the focus would not harm Adamkiewicz’s ability to speak, think or move.

Finding the exact location of the seizure focus took three operations, spanning a period from January to early April 2012. But the change in Adamkiewicz’s life was dramatic and immediate, as his seizures abruptly stopped. “The first thing he said to me at his two-week follow-up appointment was,  ‘I’ve had 13 nights of sleep,’ which he hadn’t had in I don’t know how long,” recalls Air. “As a doctor, this is what you live for. To have the opportunity to work with somebody like Ryan and to give him back his life is a gift I don’t have the words to describe.”

Adamkiewicz, who is still on medications, has applied to do volunteer work, has been cleared to drive and is hoping to be back in the workforce in the near future. He says his faith, along with his family, helped him through four brain surgeries. Also on his side was the technology that makes epilepsy surgery possible, along with Air.

“Every time I see Dr. Air I cry and hug her,” says Adamkiewicz’s mother, Lynn. “I think she’s a little god. She’s special to me.”

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