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A License for Freedom from Epilepsy

Epilepsy patient Roxane Duncan.

October 31, 2018

Ask any teenager, and he or she will tell you a driver's license is a big deal. It represents the freedom and independence that can thrust you into adulthood. At 50, Roxane Duncan is finally ready to experience that freedom so many people take for granted.

Diagnosed with epilepsy, Roxane had suffered seizures that cause loss of awareness since she was 15. The condition robbed her of the opportunity to receive a driver's license. Decades of taking multiple medications were not able to control her seizures. Instead, she had to rely on the generosity of family, friends and coworkers for rides to the grocery store, doctor's appointments and work. Roxane had resigned herself to living her life never knowing the sense of independence that comes from simply being able to go where you want, when you want.

By 2014, numerous physicians had done all they could to treat her seizures. After exhausting all efforts, her physician referred Roxane to The University of Kansas Health System's Level 4 Epilepsy Center. Utku Uysal, MD, a neurologist specializing in epilepsy at the center, had new options in mind.

"Our goal is complete freedom from seizures," said Dr. Uysal. "If medication doesn't work, we look at other options that will help us pinpoint the source of seizures in the brain and treat accordingly."

Those options include a lobectomy – surgery to remove the area of the brain where the seizures start – or minimally invasive laser ablation to remove the diseased tissue that causes seizures. For patients who are not a candidate for these treatments, responsive neurostimulation or vagal nerve stimulation, which uses a device to send electrical impulses into the brain to control seizures, is another option.

After a series of scans and tests, Dr. Uysal isolated the source of Roxane's seizures to the right side of her brain. Because the seizures originated from a specific location, Roxane was a candidate for a procedure that would give her the best chance to ultimately stop her seizures – and secure her freedom – once and for all.

In November 2014, Dr. Uysal, in collaboration with neurosurgeon Paul Camarata, MD, performed a right anterior temporal lobectomy, removing the front portion of the temporal lobe of her brain. Within 2 and a half months, Roxane was back to work and seizure-free.

"Here I am, seizure-free for a year," Roxane said, "and applying for my driver's license."

A goal 34 years in the making, finally achieved.

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