Lakewood woman receives implant designed to prevent seizures


Less than a day after a three-hour brain surgery, Kathleen Rivas takes a seat with her doctors. The aspiring journalist has hardly slept.

"Even going into surgery, I asked my dad if I could smell his coffee just cause I knew it would be a long day," said Rivas.

Doctors at USC implanted a newly FDA approved epilepsy pacemaker into Kathleen's brain. It's a responsive neurostimulation device that targets and neutralizes seizures where they start in the brain.

"She's fortunate to be the first patient to have this device after approval," said Dr. David Ko of USC's Keck School of Medicine.

According to the university, USC doctors have been studying the responsive neurostimulation system since 2006 and are among the first authorized to prescribe its use, since the FDA approved it on Nov. 14.

Kathleen, who has had epilepsy since she was 19, was taking four epilepsy drugs, but her seizures still remained out of control. She agreed to undergo the surgery because the medication failed to control her seizures.

"The ones that I experienced the most, maybe for me, are the five to seven second ones where I just kind of blank out," said Rivas.

In a previous surgery, doctors attempted to remove the part of her brain that causes her seizures, but that area was too close to the part of the brain responsible for hand movement.

"This device became available a few months after her prior surgery so now she's able to have further hope," said Ko.

About 3 million people in the United States have epilepsy, and about 65 million people worldwide, according to USC.

In up to 40 percent of epilepsy cases, medications can't control the seizures.

Neurologist Dr. Christianne Heck of USC's Keck School of Medicine says the RNS System implant is a game-changer and could potentially help millions.

"This device was really an answer to those issues for many patients who cannot undergo epilepsy surgery," said Heck.

Unlike previous implant devices, the RNS is only activated when it senses a seizure. So far, it appears to be working.

The goal for Kathleen is to become completely seizure free.

"I just feel like I could do so much, so many things that I could do even without epilepsy or even with epilepsy, but this will give me more confidence," said Rivas.

Over the next few months, doctors will program the device to detect specific brain activity that occurs before a seizure happens.

If the implant is a success, Kathleen says one of the first things she wants to do is drive.

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