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Use of “Vagal Nerve Stimulator” to treat a young child with intractable epilepsy

  Last Update:2014-10-20

A four-year-old boy in Taiwan with intractable epilepsy was experiencing frequent seizures about 20 to 40 times a day which affected the quality of life significantly. During severe seizures, he usually fell down on the floor. As a result, he wore a helmet all the time for protection. Also, his walking capability degenerated and had to rely on a walker. He was not fit for surgery and his condition could not be improved by drugs. After careful evaluation, NTUH decided to treat this young patient with a “Mini Vagal Stimulator” implant. This stimulator is about the size of a 50 NT dollar coin. The idea is to stimulate brainstem to improve the concentration of chemicals in the brain, suppress the abnormal electric discharge, and control the blood flow in different areas of the brain to improve the epilepsy symptoms.

Six months after the surgery, the child did not suffer from epilepsy anymore. Even when his body was under stress from fever caused by cold and related pneumonia, there was no sign of epilepsy. Brain wave exams showed that the frequent electrical discharges had disappeared. His walking ability improved, his shaky steps became stable, and finally he was able to walk and run on his own. In terms of cognitive sense, he also showed improvement in interacting with other kids, and was able to make some cute noises. His parents are also very pleased to see him behaving much better than before. This surgery set the record in Asia for the youngest patient receiving the implant of a mini vagal stimulator.

The cost of such surgery is very expensive, approximately one million five hundred NT dollars (fifty thousand US dollars). Besides, special permission from MOHW is required for operations on children under 12 years of age.

Furthermore, the cost to replace the battery is around a few hundred thousand NT dollars. However, NTUH thinks that the traditional treatment would cost about the same after two to seven years. The major benefit of this procedure is that it can improve the patient’s quality of life much earlier.

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