I’m Amy Bradley and today’s Conemaugh Connection comes to you from the East Kentucky Science Center where the Evergreen Exhibit “Brain: The World Inside Your Head” is giving the public an in-depth look at our body’s most intricate organ.
The Brain is our Central Command Center, an incredibly complex organ that controls our personality, memory, language, movement and thought. The brain also controls our unconscious body functions like digestion and breathing.
There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain, the same number of stars in our galaxy.
Sometimes those neurons misfire, resulting in seizures. Epilepsy is the 3rd most common neurological condition in the nation, affecting more than 30 million Americans.
For some medication can control the seizures but for others like the young woman we are about to introduce you to … medication was just not enough.
Helene Gleason has our story.
At first glance, Teela Ogline of Somerset, is a seemingly fun, happy 23-year-old. But under this playful exterior, lies a condition that has robbed Teela of her independence and a chance at a normal life. It all started when she was just an infant--the result of a reaction from a vaccine.
AMY SUE MILLER, Teela’s Mom
“On the way home she started convulsing and she was in the hospital, took her to the emergency room, and she convulsed for like three hours. It was approximately three days later that she started seizing uncontrollably. Twenty seizures in a day one time.”
Teela’s brain had swelled, and the resulting damage left her with epilepsy, which occurs when the brain experiences abnormal or excessive electrical activity-causing seizures.
TEELA “They told me I’ve had seizure disorder ever since I was six months old and I’ve had it most of my life. They’re telling me afterwards what happened. I don’t remember them. I don’t know what I’m doing in my seizure, anything like that. I know I twitch, something like that. I don’t know what goes on.”
April Miller, Teela’s sister
“In high school Teela only had like two friends and everyone else was real scared of her just because of her epilepsy and as a 23-year old, you’re supposed to be able to go out and explore things, go on trips and go out with your friends, go to parties and she can’t do that because she’ll get tired and then she’ll have a seizure and she’s scared to death to have them out in public.”
In fact, according to Teela’s family, the public’s misconception of epilepsy has been one of Teela’s biggest challenges to overcome.
“It’s a big mystery out there. Like I think people understand AIDS and stuff like that better than they understand seizures. Like if you have a seizure then you’re a freak almost.”
While it may be misunderstood, it’s certainly not uncommon. More than three million Americans suffer from epilepsy, and it’s estimated that one in 10 adults will have a seizure in their lifetime. Finding the right treatment is key- something that has been a constant struggle for Teela, who has tried several medications, with debilitating side effects.
“You know, medication is too high, too low, it’s not covering it but if it’s too high then Teela is sleeping 17 hours a day because they’ve over drugged her…but if you take her off the drugs and lower it, then she’s seizing.”
Dr. Alfred Bowles,
“Sixty-seven percent of patients with epilepsy will have control of their seizures with medications, another 30-40 percent of those patients may not have adequate control of the seizures with medications and those are patients who may be candidates for epilepsy surgery.”
When Dr. Bowles first mentioned the words “brain surgery,” to Amy Sue, it was met with much hesitation.
“She’s not getting it done. I don’t want this done and when talking with Dr. Bowles he made it sound much easier and he put a lot of the concerns I had at ease. The fact that he’s done hundreds of these surgeries has helped me and had numerous success stories.”
And with that, Teela and her family started a medical journey with hopes that after surgery, Teela could lead a more normal, —seizure free life.
“I would like to get a job, move out on my own and hopefully be with my friends and have a good time, which I could never do before.”
“I would like to know who Teela is basically. I don’t know Teela. Teela has been in a drug-induced, you know state for 23 years. I want her to get a job. I want her to be able to say I did this. I want her to go swimming and not have somebody holding her hand the whole time she’s in the swimming pool. A simple driver’s license so she can go and meet boys go out and have fun with her friends, have a pet. Simple things people take for granted that Teela has never had the chance and be independent.”
To start the process, Teela underwent very thorough testing, including an MRI and Pet Scan to get a roadmap of her brain. Teela also spent several days in Memorial’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit to try to determine where her seizure’s were originating.
“When she underwent evaluation within our long-term epilepsy monitoring unit scalp electrodes were placed on the scalp then she was placed in a carefully controlled room which has a video relay to it as the scalp electrodes were attached to a 128 EEG.
She was on multiple anticonvulsive medications, as we slowly decreased the medication doses over days we will then increase the chance for her to have a seizure that we can witness, control and record.”
Teela’s seizure showed that while most of the activity was generated on the left side of her brain, there was still some activity coming from the right side, so to ensure an accurate diagnosis, more invasive testing was necessary.
“Make an incision, remove the bone, open up the dura and instead of having those electrodes placed that record the brain activity on the scalp, we put them on the brain. Those electrodes are much more sensitive. So when a seizure occurs we know exactly where it’s coming from.”
Dr. Bowles has gone out of his way to do every test possible that people have not tried on Teela. I’ve learned more about Teela’s epilepsy in the last year than I new in 22 years before with all the gizmos and gadgets he has available to him. I didn’t know where her seizures were located.”
Following the initial testing, Teela was placed back in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit for further evaluation, where it was determined that her seizures originate in her left temporal lobe—a part of the brain that is especially important for speech and memory. Armed with this information, it would now be up to Dr. Bowles to remove the damaged part of Teela’s brain that’s been causing her seizures, without harming any healthy brain tissue…Next stop, the Operating Room…
Would Teela’s surgery work? Now months later, is she seizure free? Helene will be back in just a little bit with results that may surprise you.
Scientists say it is here in the frontal lobes of the brain, behind the forehead where speech, thought, learning and emotions take place.
Emotions play a big part in our decisions and today we want to introduce you to just a few of the many people whose emotions led them to help make a difference for others through generous donations to the Conemaugh Health Foundation.