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Device gives new lease of life to epileptic man in Abu Dhabi

Equipment implanted on the patient’s chest wall.

By Olivia Olarte-ulherr - Senior Reporter, Abu Dhabi

Published: Fri 26 Jun 2015, 11:38 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:10 PM

Abu Dhabi – Epilepsy may not be a curable disease. It can be managed like other any disease with proper treatment and attention. If the patient or epileptic is drug-resistant, life gives many embarrassing situations, which will even lead to social stigma. But a hospital in the national capital proved, a battery run equipment can put seizures under control.

A private hospital in Abu Dhabi carried out a surgery on a 33-year- old drug-resistant epileptic man to help him control recurring seizures or epilepsy by implanting a device on his chest wall.

The man underwent a Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) implantation at Al Noor Hospital in Airport Road, which conducted the operation for the first time.

According to the hospital, the patient had been suffering recurring epilepsy attacks for more than three years as a result of encephalitis, a very rare and serious condition that causes inflammation of the brain.

VNS, is a small pacemaker-like device that can control the frequency and intensity of epilepsy attacks. The encephalitis treatment has left him with memory loss, speech loss, five different lifelong medications and two to three epilepsy episodes a month, often resulting in visits to the emergency room.

This had tremendously affected the patient’s quality of life, hindering him from carrying out even regular tasks.

Lack of sleep, tiredness and the extremely hot weather trigger the seizures. The patient was referred to Dr Anas Tawakol, consultant neurosurgeon at Al Noor Hospital, who has carried out a number of VNS implantation from another government facility.

“VNS implantation is a surgical procedure in which a control battery is implanted in the left chest wall and an electrode is wrapped around the vagus nerve that passes vertically down the neck within the carotid sheath while the patient is under general anaesthesia. The device will then help control any involuntary body functions by sending mild electrical pulses to the brain via the vagus nerve once activated a few days post-surgery,” he explained.

“The setting on the patient’s VNS device will be gradually increased over a number of weeks in an effort to improve his seizure control.

Improvement post-surgery usually takes time in people who respond well to a VNS treatment. Studies have shown that people have different response patterns to VNS therapy and the results may vary from one person to another,” he added. Although seizure-free with VNS is not guaranteed, the therapy does provide a ray of hope for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy attacks as most experience a better quality of life after undergoing the procedure. The patient, according to his wife, “is improving” and “feeling a lot better”, said Dr Tawakol.

According to him the medical procedure itself is “very simple” and the patient can be discharged the same day. However, the cost of the machine, which is around Dh110,000 – Dh130,000, deters insurance companies from signing-off the approval.

At present, the VNS therapy is not among the list of pre-approved medical procedures in the emirate, thus, it took the patient nearly four months to get approval from his insurance company  before the surgery can be carried out.

“None of the private doctors could have done it because of the high cost of insurance,” Dr Tawakol pointed out.

He said he went through a load of paper work to justify granting the procedure to the patient.


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