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13th June 2016

Stopping seizures in their tracks

After enduring regular epileptic seizures and trying new treatments for nearly three decades, Hélène Gonnot was fed up.

The epilepsy medication that she’d been taking since her teens wasn’t working and Hélène’s doctors were concerned about the frequency of her seizures ‒ up to 20 a month that she was aware of ‒ which included falling and facial spasms.

In 2014 Hélène’s doctors suggested vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), a type of therapy that uses an implanted pulse generator to send mild electrical stimulations to the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain through the body. They hoped that this would reduce the number, length and intensity of her seizures.

Hélène was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 15, but it can happen to anyone at any age. The neurological disorder affects about one in 100 people and is characterised by a disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain that causes various types of seizures.1

It was an easy decision. “I wasn’t afraid of the operation. I said ‘Let’s go for it’ even though it could take up to a year to work and there was still only a 50/50 chance that it would be a success,” she tells This Is Medtech.

After just two months, Hélène noticed a positive change. “The seizures would start, but then they’d stop again,” she recalls. Doctors told her that it was extremely rare for a patient to see results so quickly and indeed, several months followed where Hélène thought her luck had run out.

But almost exactly a year after starting VNS therapy, things turned around and it began working again. Since then, there has been a huge difference.

“Before, my daughters could tell even when a minor seizure was coming on, but now they’re barely noticeable. I have very mild symptoms, like a veil over my head, and they go quickly, whereas previously I’d be unconscious for minutes,” she explains. Although she still falls sometimes, it’s been several months since she’s had a major event that she’s aware of.

Despite the physical and emotional difficulties that come with epilepsy, Hélène has a positive outlook ‒ especially now that her condition is more manageable. She also feels lucky to have the support of “two wonderful daughters, who are very mature and who understood how to deal with it from a young age.”

“At the end of the day, I’m doing fine.”

Epilepsy Society, What is epilepsy?