Fourteen years ago, at the age of 24, Crystal suffered a traumatic brain injury that changed her life. As a result of this, Crystal began having absence seizures on a daily basis, causing her to lose consciousness for short periods of time. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures. Epilepsy can be caused by genetics, or in Crystal’s case, a brain injury. These seizures began to impact Crystal’s ability to be independent. She was no longer able to drive, she struggled with her balance, and she relied on her mom, Terry, for support.
Although she was seeing a neurologist for treatment, Crystal was not experiencing much improvement. That’s when Crystal decided to get a second opinion with Ascension Wisconsin neurologist George Morris, MD.
Prior to meeting with Dr. Morris, Crystal was taking medication and had a vagal nerve stimulator (VNS) implanted to help with her seizures. VNS can prevent seizures by sending regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. Even with medication and VNS, Crystal’s seizures became more frequent, which led Dr. Morris to consider surgery as an option for her treatment.
Crystal underwent various neuropsychological tests to see if she would be a good candidate for surgery. Once she was deemed a good fit, her first procedure was scheduled. This initial procedure was to place grids and strips — electrodes that are placed on the brain to map where the seizures are coming from — on the left side of her brain. This initial procedure did not locate where the seizures were coming from so, after recovering from surgery, Crystal had grids and strips placed onto the right side of her brain. It was this second procedure that Dr. Morris was able to locate the area of the brain causing Crystal’s seizures.
“The evaluation of an epilepsy patient typically happens in stages to identify the exact area in which the seizures are occuring,” said Dr. Morris. “Our unique procedure of using grids and strips as an epilepsy mapping tool at Ascension Wisconsin, allows us to hone in on where seizure activity is taking place in the brain.”
Compassionate, supportive care teams
Once the area was located, Crystal underwent surgery to remove the non-essential area of the brain causing the seizures. This type of surgery can be overwhelming for both the patient and the family. However, Crystal and her mom, Terry, recall the Ascension Wisconsin care team going above and beyond to ensure they were taken care of and all of their questions were answered every step of the way.
Crystal’s care team included Dr. Morris, a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy, a neurosurgeon, and a nurse navigator, all working together to create a treatment plan to meet her goal of living a seizure-free life.
A care navigator at Ascension Wisconsin helped Crystal schedule all of her tests and appointments, assisted with getting her in and out of the hospital, and kept her mom, Terry, up to date on her care, allowing the family to focus on Crystal.
“I can’t say enough good things about the care team that took care of Crystal,” Terry said.
Additionally, Terry recalled how the intensive care unit (ICU) nurses at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Milwaukee allowed her to come in before visiting hours to see Crystal off to her surgery. She expressed gratitude for how the nurses did not treat her and Crystal like just another patient and their family, but instead took the time to respect Crystal and listen to her concerns.
Both Crystal and Terry spoke highly of the entire care team, including her doctors and nurses, and recalled how upbeat and positive they all were throughout her entire journey. The compassion and positivity allowed Crystal to to build a good relationship with her doctors and care team — making follow up appointments and ongoing care much easier and enjoyable.
As Crystal reflected on her time in the hospital and her experience with multiple neurological procedures, she emphasized, “it’s not easy, but it is worth it.”
After undergoing a successful surgery, Crystal has been seizure-free for more than a month. She is hoping to get back to her job as a janitorial staff member and help her mom in the garden this summer.
"Seizure freedom is the goal of epilepsy treatment and Crystal will experience several benefits. Crystal will no longer worry about injury from seizures, she can go places without worrying about her safety, and she has her independence,” said Dr. Morris.
Living with epilepsy can be challenging. Our neurologists and epilepsy specialists offer advanced care for epilepsy and seizures. If a brain condition is causing seizures or affecting your behavior, movement, or feelings, we can help. Our doctors work quickly to understand the care you need and deliver care that’s right for you.