At the Bedside: Young Patient Nearly Seizure-free, Thanks to VNS, Laser Ablation at UTHealth Houston

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When Megan Speir’s 18-month-old daughter, Sofia, started drooling on one side of her mouth during bath time, Megan initially thought Sofia was playing with her. But as Sofia’s eyes glazed over and the right side of her body went limp, Megan realized something was wrong. She called her husband, who suspected Sofia was having a seizure. The baby was rushed to the hospital, where Sofia was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.

But after multiple trips to the emergency room, Megan grew frustrated with that diagnosis and suspected that there was something else going on. She took Sofia to a clinic in Pearland, where she was diagnosed with epilepsy. After Sofia’s doctor at that clinic retired, and medication after medication didn’t work, Megan explored other care options. An acquaintance recommended Gretchen Von Allmen, MD, professor and director of the pediatric epilepsy program with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. Von Allmen is also the Jacobo Geissler Distinguished Chair in West Syndrome Research with McGovern Medical School.

Sofia began seeing Von Allmen as a toddler and worked with the family to find a treatment plan that worked. However, by the time she turned 4, her seizures hadn’t improved. Von Allmen recommended Sofia undergo vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy, which involves sending regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. In January 2018, Sofia underwent the procedure, which helped manage her seizures for three years. However, as Sofia hit a growth spurt, her seizures became more frequent and violent.

Von Allmen encouraged the family to consider laser ablation treatment, which uses heat to target and remove the region where the seizures begin. In the fall of 2021, 7-year-old Sofia underwent the treatment and has only experienced one seizure in the two years since.

“Before she had the ablation, they told us she could lose her memory. So much of who she is is in her frontal lobe where her seizures were originating,” Megan said of her now 9-year-old daughter, who likes to sing and write songs. “But it’s been so successful. I believe we’ve seen a miracle in what she’s gone through.”

Today, Sofia continues to see Von Allmen and Olga Rodziyevska, PA-C, a physician assistant with Von Allmen’s epilepsy program at UT Physicians, for check-ups.

At the Bedside is a series of patient stories with UTHealth Houston physicians and staff.

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