YOUR HEALTH: Pinpointing the cause of epilepsy

CLEVELAND, Ohio – 19-year old Ravi Stewart has battled epilepsy for most of his life.

In high school, he had up to 80 seizures every single day.

"Having people know about it, I was definitely bullied for most of it," Ravi recalled.  "It definitely made it hard to go to school and stay caught up."

Ravi took four different medications, but none controlled his seizures.

He wasn't a candidate for surgery because doctors couldn't locate the problem spot in his brain.

"No matter how hard everyone tried, the seizures continued relentlessly," recalled Dr. Elaine Wyllie, epilepsy specialist and Neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

That's when Ravi enrolled in a research protocol at the Cleveland Clinic.

Doctors used a brand new MRI machine, called 7-Tesla, to look inside his brain.   It allows them to get at a deeper level inside the cells.  It's been approved for use by the FDA.

The University of Iowa is using it for research on both human and animal imaging.

Magnet strength is measured in Tesla units.   The usual MRIs are 1.5 or 3 Tesla.  The new research magnet is 7 Tesla.

The 7 Tesla magnet provides a much more detailed view of every aspect of the brain's anatomy.

In Ravi's case it allowed his doctors to detect a subtle but very important abnormality that turned out to be the cause of his seizures.

"The abnormality became clear," remembered Dr. Wyllie.

Ravi then had surgery to remove the lesion.   Surgeons precisely targeted the area in his brain without harming nearby regions that control language.

A year later, Ravi is completely seizure-free.

"It's a whole new life," said his mother, Sangeeta Lakhani.   "It's a whole new person. I didn't know this person existed behind the Ravi that we knew."

"Things are definitely better," said Ravi.  "I definitely feel happier."

And now he has the life he always wanted.  One without seizures.

BACKGROUND: Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the nervous system.   It is also known as seizure disorder, and is usually diagnosed after a person has had at least two seizures (or one with a high risk for more) that were not caused by some known medical condition.   Seizures as seen in epilepsy patients are caused by disturbances in the electrical activity of the brain.   The seizures may be related to a brain injury or even familial history, but most of the time the cause is unknown.   65 million people around the world have epilepsy, and one in 26 people in the U.S. will develop it at some point in their lifetime.  (Source: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics)

There are only a handful of these machines in the world.

Cleveland Clinic researchers are trying to find out how the scanner works for epilepsy.   Preliminary results show 7-Tesla images enhance previous findings in nearly half of the epilepsy patients imaged.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.