Implant offers hope for epilepsy patient
WINCHESTER — Michael Bodamer, 18, had his first seizure two days after birth, shortly after suffering a stroke.
He was put on medication, but only needed it for 12 weeks. Then he was seizure-free for about 10 years, until December 2007 after his parents, Tom and Kimberly Bodamer, of Frederick County, rushed him to the hospital.
Since then, they have tried him on eight different medications and now have him on five. He takes 29 pills a day, but still suffers regular, unpredictable seizures.
In one 24-hour period, Dr. Paul Lyons, a neurologist and epileptologist at Winchester Neurological Consultants of Winchester, said his patient experienced more than 900 events or mini seizures.
Bodamer doesn’t feel them when they happen, and he can’t tell when they’re coming. He usually doesn’t know when the big ones are about to happen, either.
That’s why a surgically implanted NeuroPace device could change everything for him.
At a Thursday news conference at his office, Lyons announced that Bodamer is the first epilepsy patient in the Northern Virginia area to receive the device, a battery-powered neurostimulator surgically implanted in the skull to continually monitor the brain’s electrical activity and programmed to deliver brief patient-specific pulses of stimulation directly to the seizure focus when it detects activity that could lead to seizure.
Dr. Lee Selznick, a neurosurgeon with the Virginia Brain and Spine Center, implanted the device through the Virginia Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Winchester Medical Center, and Bodamer’s parents say they expect a 40 percent reduction in seizures during the first year, growing to 50 percent in the second year and increasing with time.
But the device does more than treat seizures as they happen. It also records information on Bodamer’s brain activity that Lyons and Bodamer’s family can view from any digital device.
“This is a very powerful tool that we have never had before,” Lyons said.
Based in Mountain View, California, NeuroPace Inc. has more than 400 patients nationwide. The device was approved for use in 2013 and has so far been administered through two other Virginia locations — the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.
“The role that NeuroPace has in epilepsy is in stopping seizures on brain surfaces that we can’t remove because they perform critical functions,” Lyons said.
Performing surgery in these places on the brain could affect language, sensation or movement, he said. Other difficulties arise when the patient has seizures in critical memory centers or independently in both cerebral hemispheres.
But the technology allows him to customize interventions for brain function and induce favorable changes in brain circuitry using real time information.
“[It] really revolutionizes how we think about the brain,” Lyons said.
Bodamer, who recently graduated from Millbrook High School as an honor student, has now had three brain surgeries in an attempt to stabilize his epilepsy. Though he plans to forestall college plans for now, he would like to pursue a career as a sports trainer or a forensic scientist.
When they learned of their son’s epilepsy, his parents said they launched an education campaign to teach him all they could about colors, shapes and speech, never knowing when his next seizure might occur and derail their efforts.
He was talking at 14 or 15 months, his mother recalled. “We could have a complete conversation with him before he was 18 months old,” she said.
“He was a huge help with his sister,” she said. “We did the same thing with her.”
Five years younger, their daughter Kayleigh started reading at a young age because her brother read to her in the back seat of the car.
“We probably put our expectations way high that we weren’t going to let him use this as an excuse to not try,” his mother said.
“He’s very bright,” she said, “it’s just epilepsy gets in the way, I think.”
Nearly 3 million Americans suffer from epilepsy and experience two or more unprovoked seizures in their lifetime, Lyons said. Almost a million of those have seizures in spite of taking two or more medications as treatment, and about a third of his patients suffer from severe drug-resistant epilepsy.
“Epilepsy is a syndrome beyond seizures,” he said. “Epilepsy is a syndrome that affects cognition, learning, memory, visual memory, auditory memory, mood, personality, sense of humor, attention, concentration. … It really affects personhood, school performance, professional trajectories.”
“What we try to do is stop that process. And not just stop the seizures, but recover that neurological function,” he said. “We’re moving closer to what we call personalized medicine.”
Bodamer, he said, is “an inspiration.”
“It’s people like Michael who keep us going to work hard, to achieve goals. If Michael is not going to give up, I’m not going to give up.”
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org