My tiny part in a far reaching medical breakthrough

by Placerville Newswire / Aug 15, 2018 / comments

[Cris Alarcon]

Soon after I turned 50 I was hospitalized for several serious seizures called Status epilepticus, a medical emergency.  Since I had a couple of unprovoked seizures in a short period of time, I was classified as an epileptic, and that is when I began to understand the joys of getting older.  I am grateful to have lived long enough to start to see some of the issues that come with aging. Like is often the case, a condition I have had my whole life, got worse as my body aged and my ability to hold-it-off was just not up to the task anymore.

Status epilepticus is a dangerous seizures associated with significant mortality!  That got all my attention! It took about two years to go from “epilepsy” to the exact problem, a “short” in the front section of my right Temporal Lobe of my brain.  With knowledge of the problem, talk of treatment was the next step. I was fortunate to hear that I was “an ideal candidate” for a procedure with an especially high success rate with a seizure free rate of 80%-90%.  As I studied all I could find, and visited the neuroscience division of a high-end medical facility I learned that most epilepsies are seen in children and most have no course of action or effective treatment. I was happy to hear that I had a probable solution, but I was heartbroken to see many others that were suffering horribly, most young children.

I started on my research when my exceptional neurologist said surgery, brain surgery.  She explained to me the problem, and how they were going to proceed. First they were going to try a bunch of drugs to see if they could stop the seizures.  If they could not, they would do a bunch of test to pinpoint the part of my brain that was “shorted out” and causing the seizures.

On Monday I took a fMRI, or a “Functional MRI” that is about 1,000 MRI snapshots run together like an old flip book so movement like blood flow can be seen (using very advanced software).  Before the process I read everything I could find including technical papers and research papers. I knew a lot about the process I was going to take even before the doctor explained it to me in the waiting room, including its’ weakness, the susceptibility to movement. So I was all ready to remain as still as I could for two hours.  I knew many of the processes I could expect from the papers I had read. But even papers written in 2018 were time delayed as the research they were reporting on, was from a year or more ago. When I actually took the fMRI I could see advances in the testing, even as a layman.

This fMRI my neurologist explained to me that there may be an overlap of the area that they wanted to remove, and another critical process that was being handled by that part of brain, like language processing.  They would “brain map” my thought processes in that area and if there was an overlap, they would add post-surgery therapy to help the brain fix itself! The brain fix itself?

If they had to remove part of the brain that was performing a critical process, they would help teach the other hemisphere of my brain to take over that function…  Well it was like science fiction to me and she told me this in a matter of minutes. She is a talented pro that I completely trust, but I had to go back to my fallback, research.  Lots of research. As it was more than just an interest to me, It was literally life or death for me. I invested many hours of research and I began to understand what I had and why I was an ideal candidate.

Where my problem was had been treated by this surgery she was talking about in recent years and with success rate was exceptionally high.  Most people had no seizures for many years after surgery ( this is a new procedure, so lifetime results are not yet available). For me, this is great news as I am one of those many people that are drug resistant, or “Intratable.” I am now in the middle of a long list of complex diagnostic testing to pinpoint the exact place they want to address, and to find out exactly I am doing with that part of my brain in case they need to add post surgery therapy, like physical therapy for my brain.

OK, great for me, but what is this “therapy” they were talking about? Well it turns out the brain is not fixed and set in our first five years of life like doctors believed for decades.  When traumatic brain damage happens to adults the brain regularly moves critical functions to other areas of the brain, usually in a similar location, but at the other hemisphere of the brain.  This new revelation is called brain “plasticity” and counters decades of believing that the brain was set and fixed in the first five years of our lives.

The brain is far too complex for us to re-wire, but it turns out that the brain can rewire itself in many ways.  That we could help it fix itself! The implications are almost unimaginable, just like we can do exercises in physical therapy to strengthen the body to recover from things like a hip replacement surgery, we can do mental exercises to help the brain repair itself…

No different than the flash cards we used in college to learn skills like math or history.  The more we use those skills the better we get at them. Like a weight lifter gets stronger and better at that skill the more it is practiced.  This means we can combat things like declining memory as we age, by using mental therapy exercises designed specifically to strengthen that skill!  

Let that sink in.  

As we start to refine this new field of science, we will be able to fix and reduce many of the common ailments that we used to think were inevitable parts of getting older.  Just like we figured out how to set a broken leg, just like we figured out how to replace a bad hip, we are at the frontend of starting to learn how the brain works and that is the start of effective cures for many brain related problems.

Simply revolutionary.

Cris Alarcon.


Part 1 "Provoked Seizures and what I learned from a week in an EMU"

Part 2 "Brain Surgery - It Just Got Real"

Part 3 "Major Illness is Life's Best Roller Coaster"

Part 4 "My tiny part in a far reaching medical breakthrough"

Part 5 "Rounding Third and Headed Home with my Neurological Team"

Part 6 "Neuropsychological assessment before epilepsy surgery"

Part 7 “WADA for Epilepsy, Cerebral Angioplasty, EEG”