Surgery frees local man from epileptic seizures

Dr. Paul Lyons

WINCHESTER – A local man who had suffered with seizures since childhood is now living seizure-free after epilepsy surgery.

Chase Nethers, 23, of Winchester, has not had a seizure in over three years after receiving frontal lobe epilepsy surgery at the age of 19.

Nethers said he had been diagnosed with an epilepsy disorder in his mid-teens, but he had been suffering from various forms of epilepsy since the fifth grade.

Brain surgery was not the first treatment option Nethers had tried. He had also tried various medications that had little effect on preventing seizures. He was classified as having drug-resistant epilepsy.

Paul Lyons, neurologist, epilepsy specialist and medical director of the Virginia Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Winchester Medical Center, said that epilepsy is unique because a third of patients fail to respond to medication.

Chase Nethers

“It’s a particularly vexing problem despite a century of work,” he said.

He added that when a patient fails to respond to two appropriate medications, “the probability of any seizure medication getting the patient seizure-free is only 1 to 5 percent.”

Nethers chose to have the surgery after other treatments failed to provide him relief.

Lyons said the idea of a craniotomy, or brain surgery, is a frightening idea, especially during the initial discussions with the patient and family members.

A craniotomy is a surgical operation in which a bone flap is temporarily removed from the skull to access the brain. Then a resection, or removal, of tissue is performed.

Once the decision for brain surgery has been made, Lyons said that six to nine months of testing takes place before the surgery.

He said getting this surgery is a major advantage for those with drug-resistant epilepsy because the chance of death is higher in drug-resistant epilepsy with continued seizures than it is with epilepsy surgery that involves brain surgery.

He added that brain surgery is only offered to patients age 15 and older.

The surgery takes about four hours on the operating table and three days recovering in the hospital, he added. For the first six weeks following the surgery, the patient is still recovering from the process of surgery and then the patient may need additional therapy.

Lyons said that life before the surgery would have been difficult for Nethers, and is difficult for many people coping with epilepsy.

He said people suffering from epilepsy often experience social isolation, underemployment or unemployment, financial limitations, societal stigmas and a loss of personal relationships.

He added that long-term epilepsy can lead to “irreversible brain function deficits in terms of learning, memory, planning and personality.”

While having a seizure, Nethers said he would become confused and forgetful until the seizure passed. He said the experience of seizures felt like you were drowning because of the constant feeling of exhaling and the inability to breathe.

Nethers said a major struggle and consequence when dealing with the risk of seizures was remaining independent.

When it came to friendships, he said, “loyal ones are going to stay” and for relationships he said it became difficult because of his inability to drive and hold a steady job due to the risk of having a seizure at any time. He had to inform employers about his health risks and explain what they would need to do if he had a seizure while at work.

He added that he had spent about a year and a half total without being able to drive.

Lyons said that a team of doctors worked together to ensure Nethers didn’t have to live with these struggles for the rest of his life. The team worked together on patients to get them seizure-free “so they can go off and get tattoos, buy a convertible car, get a driver’s license, go off and have adventures and pursue a life filled with independence and autonomy.”

Since the surgery, Nethers said the biggest changes have been the retention of memory and his overall quality of life. He added that keeping a steady job has been a great change.

Nethers added that he hopes others in the community learn about the effects of epilepsy and how to help or respond to anyone who may be experiencing a seizure.

He also hopes that those with epilepsy consider all of the options available and to not be afraid of surgery if it is in their best interest.

According to a Valley Health news release, the Virginia Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Winchester Medical Center has been re-accredited for 2016-2017 as a Level 4 Epilepsy Center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers. This is the highest designation awarded to centers with the expertise, facilities and equipment to provide complex neurodiagnostic, medical and surgical services for epilepsy treatment. Level 4 centers offer complete evaluation for epilepsy, intracranial monitoring and a broad range of neurosurgical procedures for epilepsy.

The local program is one of four Level 4 epilepsy centers in Virginia and the only community hospital-based Level 4 center that treats children and adults.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com