Breakthrough technology is stopping seizures before they happen

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From epileptic patients, young to old, one piece of technology is stopping hard to find seizures before they start. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) From epileptic patients, young to old, one piece of technology is stopping hard to find seizures before they start. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
For 19-year-old Hannah Turner, this little piece of technology has been a game changer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) For 19-year-old Hannah Turner, this little piece of technology has been a game changer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
It's the first epilepsy device of its kind that stops seizures before they start, by stimulating the vagus nerve in the neck with electrical impulses. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) It's the first epilepsy device of its kind that stops seizures before they start, by stimulating the vagus nerve in the neck with electrical impulses. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

It's a medical breakthrough that just keeps getting better.

From epileptic patients, young to old, one piece of technology is stopping hard to find seizures before they start.

For 19-year-old Hannah Turner, this little piece of technology has been a game changer.

"You always have to look out, you have to be cautious," said Turner. "I have falling seizures."

[SPECIAL SECTION: CBS 5 This Morning]

It's called a vagus nerve stimulator or VNS, made by LivaNova

It's the first epilepsy device of its kind that stops seizures before they start, by stimulating the vagus nerve in the neck with electrical impulses.

"It fits basically right here on the chest wall. The wires then connect up into the neck where the vagus nerve is," said Phoenix Children's Hospital Pediatric Neurosurgeon Dr. David Adelson who explained the placement of the VNS.

For Turner, the seizures started at the age of 7.

Her mom will never forget watching her have one for the first time.
  
"When she was having her snack, I saw her fall out of her chair and start to wiggle on the floor and I knew immediately what it was and of course I freaked out," said Jan.
  
As doctors searched for where in Hannah's brain the seizures were coming from, she underwent multiple brain surgeries and had to have grafts placed on her brain.

She was also put on a cocktail of medications. 

"She acted like she was on drugs, like a drug person," said Turner's mom. "She was slurring all the time, walking into walls."

Because doctors could never find the exact source of Turner's seizures and they proved to be drug-resistant, she and her parents decided VNS would be the only way to go.

"Now, she can kind of feel them coming on, but when they first started she had no idea," said Turner's father Donald.
 
What's incredible, is surgeons at Phoenix Children's Hospital can implant the VNS generators in 45 minutes to about an hour.

"If they've been tried on two or three medications, the likelihood of them getting a response for another medication, it's under 1 percent," said Dr. Adelson. 
"The use of the vagal nerve stimulator, 50 percent of patients get at least a 50 percent improvement.

Dr. Adelson has been performing the procedure for many years.

He says the FDA approved it back in 1997, but doctors haven't been prescribing it.

Since then, he says technology behind the device continues to improve at a rapid rate.

He even calls it futuristic technology because studies show that it reduces inflammation, adding it's now in clinical trials for things like stroke and rheumatoid arthritis.

He says VNS is really like taking a medication, but now with new technology, is able to read, with the swipe of this wand, when a patient is having seizures.

"To be able to have a therapy that doesn't sedate, allows you to go about your usual business, with the potential to reduce your seizures, I think that its a fantastic opportunity," said Dr. Adelson.

While Turner was having 20 seizures a day, now she's down to one or more a week.

"I have maybe 10-30 seconds with a warning and with that, I can brace myself against a wall or sit down," said Turner.
  
Her seizures happen mostly at night, not during the day, so she can go to school, but she still can't drive.

She's working on that she says.

Now Turner says she wants to be a child life specialist at Phoenix Children's, so she can help kids get through what could be the toughest time of their life.

"They're there to help distract the children from whatever's happening and that was really impactful to her," said Turner's mom.
 
VNS therapy is the first and only FDA-approved device for drug-resistant epilepsy that is clinically proven safe and effective for adults and children as young as four years of age. 

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