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FOX Medical Team

Brain stimulator assists epilepsy patients

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Janie Norman says one of the best days of her life was spent standing in line at the Georgia DMV, waiting to get her driver's license even though she was more than twice the age of the 16-year-olds around her.

Norman says she was finally able to drive, thanks to a little device designed to shut down seizures.

"There's a lot of us out there who can't drive, can't work, can't do things that everybody does," Norman explained.

Dr. Robert Gross of Emory University Hospital explains: "Janie was having seizures daily. She was having several seizures daily."

Diagnosed with epilepsy as a child, Janie had tried several medications, but the seizures kept coming.

"Probably the most disabling aspect of chronic seizures is they're not predictable.  they're random." Gross explained.  "They're chaotic, so they can come anytime."

Gross detailed: "You can't drive, because you put yourself in the position of harming yourself, harming your family."

As a result, Norman spent most of her life at home: unable to work, run errands, or to take her kids Nathan and Samantha to school.

"I just couldn't do it." Norman added. "When you don't drive, you just can't, that's a really, really sore spot for me."

Norman spent 49 days at Emory University Hospital, as doctors tried to pinpoint where in her brain her seizures were originating. Emory Neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Gross found the problem, but it was area of Janie's brain that controls her speech, making it too risky to operate. The device was the remaining option.

"At that point, it's a clinical trial. It's an experiment to see if this might work." Gross detailed.

Gross was helping to test this implantable neurostimulator, developed by a company called Neuropace, for whom he's now a consultant.

"We actually remove a piece of skull, and put this into the skull, then close the skin around it." Gross explained.

The stimulator is connected to an sensor pad placed near the focal point of Janie's seizures. As she goes about her life, it's constantly monitors for abnormal electrical activity... and when it senses it, it fires a tiny burst of stimulation, to shut the seizure down before it begins.

"Of course it's paid off big time for her because as you know, Janie has not had a seizure since we put this device in." Gross added.

That was five years ago. Today: "I volunteer at school for my kids, on birthdays I go there and bring donuts." Norman exclaimed.

Such a small thing,  such a big deal for thousands of people like Janie Norman.

"I guess it's the idea of hope, that there's another choice out there," Norman said.

Doctors say most epileptics are able to manage their seizures with medication. Norman is in a group of about 400 thousand seizure sufferers - who don't respond to drugs, and can't have surgery.

The Neuropace RNS System is aimed at those patients.

Last month, the device received pre-marketing approval by the food and drug administration.

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