Most people have heard of a pacemaker — a medical device that’s implanted to regulate the heartbeat. But similar technology also exists to treat epilepsy, and fewer people know about it.
Take Scott Sackel, for example. The Auburn resident has been dealing with epileptic seizures since he was a boy. He’s been on multiple medications to try and control his episodes, but he said nothing had worked.
Then his neurologist, Dr. Ijaz Rashid of Auburn Memorial Hospital, suggested VNS (vagus nerve stimulation) therapy, a treatment that involves implanting a pulse maker and electrodes in a patient’s neck and chest.
Sackel said the doctor’s suggestion was the first time he’d heard of VNS therapy.
“I’d never heard of equipment like that,” said Sackel, 33, who had the procedure done June 7 in Rochester by Dr. Webster Pilcher.
“(The doctors) said it might help calm me down. I thought it might help, too,” he said.
It seems to be working. During an interview in his front yard on Friday, he was able to demonstrate VNS therapy.
Sackel stopped in the middle of the conversation and pointed out that his hands and eyes were starting to shake and said that is what happens when he is about to have a seizure. But as the implant kicked in and sent an electric impulse to his vagus nerve and his brain, the shaking calmed. Sackel’s voice tightened up for a few minutes, which he said is a side effect from the pulse.
Without the implant, he said a neighbor or his son, Cordell, would likely have found him passed out on the lawn.
“It’s helped me a lot,” Sackel said.
Approved in the U.S. in 1997 for treatment of epilepsy, implanting the VNS therapy equipment involves a short surgery in which a surgeon places a device about the size of a large coin in the patient’s chest. The device delivers the electronic pulse through the electrode connected to the left vagus nerve in the neck, which activates parts of the brain affected by epilepsy.
The procedure was more recently approved for severe chronic depression cases. Sackel said he’s been dealing with depression in his own life.
“Most of it, I think, is on my seizures,” he said. “It might take some of the depression away.”
Physicians can monitor and change the strength of the pulse, and Sackel said he still has regular visits to the doctor. Sackel said he’s grateful for the work of his doctors.
“They’ve done a lot for me. I really admire them,” Sackel said.
Staff writer Christopher Caskey can be reached at 282-2282 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenCaskey.