GROSSE POINTE, Mich. (WXYZ) - The fear of seizures is so great for 24-year-old Brenda Cousins that she rocks herself to sleep.
“I’ve been to the hospital so many times, I can’t even remember. My tonic-clonic seizures scare the living hell out of me,” explained Cousins.
She has struggled to survive from the very beginning. She experienced a stroke at birth which caused scarring of brain tissue. She was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Movement on her left side was affected.
Then when she was 13, she started having seizures.
The problem continued through the years.
After she graduated from Western Michigan University this past December, the pain and anxiety related to the seizures was becoming too much for her.
“I basically stay home or I have someone drive or I don’t want to do anything because I’m scared of having [seizures.]”
TURNING TO BRAIN SURGERY
7 Action News cameras first caught up with Brenda in March when she was visiting her neurosurgeon at Beaumont Health System in Grosse Pointe.
Her assistance dog “Fletcher” was with her. He can sense the seizures coming on and then helps her get through them.
She also takes anti-seizure medication, but it is not preventing her seizures.
About 50 million people suffer from epilepsy around the world. Most of them can usually control their seizures with medication. Roughly 30% of them cannot. It’s frustrating for Brenda to fall into the latter category.
Dr. Chaim Colen – Director of Neurosurgical Oncology and Epilepsy Surgery at Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe -- said Brenda Cousins has intractable epilepsy secondary to congenital stroke with formation of scar tissue.
Since medicine cannot treat her epilepsy, brain surgery is the other option.
The first of two surgeries focuses on inserting electrodes to find out where the seizures start.
“We would actually penetrate through and into the brain,” he said holding up a long depth electrode to demonstrate. “We would leave them there for a couple of days.”
Dr. Colen also showed Brenda and her family a video of the surgery being done on another patient.
“I’m excited, but I’m very nervous because I’ve never actually had my brain operated on,” said Cousins laughing nervously.
On April 2, 2012, Dr. Colen placed electrodes on the surface of her brain. He also inserted two depth electrodes deep into the brain.
Formally, he described the procedure as a stereotactic right frontal temporal craniotomy for implantation of subdural grids and depth electrodes for long-term seizure monitoring.
Basically, his mission was to use the electrodes to pinpoint the parts of the brain causing the seizures.
After attaching the electrodes to her brain, the team then closed the incision and waited.
WAITING FOR A SEIZURE…AND PHASE TWO
Cousins remained in the hospital with the electrode cables delicately extending from the scar on her head. They were connected to monitors with the goal of catching an actual seizure.
Three days after the surgery, their wait ended.
Brenda had a grand mal seizure – hopefully her last one ever.
The implanted monitors caught the crucial spots in the brain causing the seizure.
Her epileptologist Dr. Hisanori Hasegawa joined Dr. Colen on April 9 for her second brain surgery.
Dr. Colen said this was a stereotactic right frontal temporal craniotomy for removal of subdural grids and depth electrodes with amygdalohippocampectomy and orbitofrontal resection of epileptogenic tissue.
In layman's terms, the doctors removed the sensors, and then they removed the scarred parts of her temporal and frontal lobes that were causing the seizures.
I asked Dr. Colen how common this surgery is.
“This [surgery] is unfortunately not very common, and a lot of times I think it is neglected,” said Dr. Colen.
About three weeks pass, and Brenda Cousins and her Mother come to Dr. Colen’s office to see how she is recovering.
They invite our crew along to videotape the check-up.
“It is very important for us to know if you’ve had any seizures after the second surgery, Brenda. Did you have any?” asked Dr. Colen.
“No, I didn’t,” responded Brenda.
The news is just what Dr. Colen and Dr. Hasegawa were hoping for.
Dr. Colen said Brenda does experience expected headaches, jaw pain, and light-headedness – typical symptoms following brain surgery.
But Dr. Hasegawa said they are going to cut back on some of her anti-seizure medication because they are optimistic about her progress.
“If a patient has no seizure for two years, then potentially medication may be out,” said Dr. Hasegawa.
Brenda would be cured!
That’s music to her mother’s ears.
“She’s got a little scar, but that’s minor. I have my happy girl back,” smiled Rida Cousins.
I asked Brenda if she feels like a weight has been lifted.
“Yes, majorly so...like I don’t have to worry about it,” she said.
TIME WILL TELL
Again, it will take a couple of years before doctors know if the brain surgery worked.
They are hopeful that she can be weaned of all of her anti-seizure medication