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Seizure Surgery: An Alternative to Medication

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At 28-years old, Chicago native Howard Zwirn suffered a major seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy. Epilepsy causes multiple seizures which could occur at any time and any number of times throughout a person’s life.

“The real reason of why I was having them or how it started was unknown,” Howard says. “Certain things contributed to them such as stress. Depending on what I was doing, it could happen weekly, monthly…”

Howard’s treatment began the way most epilepsy cases do: with medication. A lot of medication. At one point, Howard was taking seven different kinds and suffering the side effects of all of them. He sought a second opinion and learned of another option, an elective brain surgery called a temporal lobectomy. At first, Howard and his family declined but as the seizures and side effects of medication persisted, he and his wife reconsidered. They were referred to Dr. Josua Rosenow, Director of Functional Neurosurgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Howard was an excellent candidate for surgery because his seizures were all occurring from one spot, the hippocampus,” Dr. Rosenow says. “We found on other testing that we could remove that hippocampus without him suffering permanent ill effects.’

Dr. Rosenow says that not all seizures originate from the same spot in the brain but when they do and it’s the right spot, doctors can as he puts it, “remove the spark from the fire.”

“Our goal is to cure seizures,” he says. “That’s what we do here at Northwestern. Our goal is to cure seizures and give patients their quality of life back.”

“Our goal was to not have a seizure for five years and then it would be determined to be a success,” Howard says. “I have not had a seizure [in the 9 years since surgery] and I can’t ask for more than that.”

Since the successful surgery in early 2004, Howard and Dr. Rosenow have become close friends.

“Every time that I see Howard, his wife and his kids all I can think of is how wonderful it has been to be involved in his recovery and in watching the rest of his life progress,” Dr. Rosenow says.

“I mean Dr. Rosenow is my hero,” Howard says. “He’s my wife’s hero. I would do anything I can for him.”

Howard is a hero as well. In 2011, the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago honored him with their Hero Award for his work as an advocate and fundraiser in the epilepsy community.

“I was so proud to stand-up at the Epilepsy Foundation’s Heroes Night and present him with his award as a hero.” Dr. Rosenow says. “Howard’s recovery has truly inspired other people because he has shown people that brain surgery is something that is a viable option and it really can lead to wonderful things.”

Many epilepsy sufferers can manage on medication alone but if you or someone you know is suffering from side effects and still have seizures a temporal lobectomy could be a viable option.

Follow this link for more on the temporal lobectomy surgery to treat epilepsy at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

For more on epilepsy, click here.

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