Close-to-Home Treatment

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For the more than 2.4 million adults and children impacted by epilepsy, traveling long distances for much-needed treatment can be one of the many ways the disease can negatively impact quality of life.

But through new developments at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen, both diagnosed epilepsy patients and the more than 150,000 newly-diagnosed patients each year can now receive life-changing treatment close to home via Cameron County’s first and only Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.

“Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which the nerve cells in the brain are disturbed, causing two or more unprovoked seizures which can vary from unnoticeable changes in mental state to convulsing fits,” said Dr. Karylsa Torres-Gomez, a Valley Baptist Physician Network neurologist who has treated epilepsy patients since 2018. “A seizure occurs when brain cells that control body functions generate abnormal or excessive electrical discharges. Anyone can develop epilepsy, and it affects both males and females of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and ages.”

Dr. Torres-Gomez said that while researchers are still trying to determine the precise causes of epilepsy, some potential links have been identified.

“Some people may be more genetically predisposed to epilepsy,” she explained. “Others might develop the seizure disorder after experiencing a brain injury. In most patients, though, the cause of the epilepsy remains a mystery.”

“What we do know is this – epileptic seizures are caused by disturbances in the brain’s electrical activity, and most patients have already had at least two unprovoked seizures before they are diagnosed. So, we also know that an accurate diagnosis of epilepsy – and what specific type – is a critical first step.”

Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) officially opened in October 2022 and proudly helps local patients treat their epilepsy symptoms without the hardships associated with frequent travel outside the Rio Grande Valley, said EMU Director Angelica Anaya.

“The Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy,” Anaya said. “Our trained medical, nursing, and technical staff not only evaluate seizure disorders, but can also help create individualized and comprehensive treatment plans to reduce or eliminate the seizure activity our patients experience. In other words, treatment at Valley Baptist’s EMU can help patients get back to leading a full and active life.”

The EMU admission process begins when a patient’s physician decides that prolonged video electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring would be useful in evaluating seizures or epilepsy. Such prolonged monitoring of the brain is an essential first step to diagnosing epilepsy and helping neurologists determine a proper course of treatment for each patient at Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s EMU, Dr. Torres-Gomez said.

“Neurologists utilize the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit to admit patients suffering from epilepsy to continuously monitor brain activity using EEG and video for an extended period of time,” she said. “This gives us a better understanding of the seizures by seeing how the brain is functioning and what the patient is physically doing during a seizure event.

“Because this study is performed in a controlled setting, we can lower or stop the patient’s seizure medication to increase chances of recording seizures during the study. The EMU is equipped with computer-based monitoring equipment expressly designed for the evaluation of seizure disorders, allowing the EMU team to gather data before a seizure starts, while one is occurring, and during a patient’s recovery.”

Dr. Torres-Gomez said that by utilizing this approach, neurologists can uncover vital clues regarding a patient’s seizures that can help shape individualized treatment.

“Epileptic patients can have more than one type of seizure, and the seizures can range in severity; it may even be difficult to determine when some patients are having a seizure,” she said. “Our staff will monitor the frequency and location of seizure activity in a patient’s brain, as well as the duration of each incident and its effect on the body.”

Unlike many diseases that can permit a patient to travel long distances for treatment, the sudden and often random nature of epileptic seizures can make travel incredibly challenging, Dr. Torres-Gomez said.

Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s EMU provides an invaluable, life-changing service for Valley residents who might otherwise suffer through epilepsy without treatment.

“It is important to have this unit close to a patient’s home, since going to San Antonio or Houston is not possible for many patients or their families,” she said. “Many times, treatment will require that a patient needs to be with a caregiver during hospitalization, which means having family nearby. If a patient has driving restrictions, having access to Valley Baptist’s EMU is a critical component to not only successful treatment, but also improving their quality of life.”

For more information on Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, visit https://www.valleybaptist.net/services/neurology-and-neurosurgery/epilepsy-monitoring-unit.

Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit features:

  • Two dedicated private rooms
  • 24-hour access to a specialty trained physicians
  • 24-hour monitoring by a qualified EEG technician
  • The ability to quickly identify a patient’s seizure activity, type of seizure, and the location of onset
  • Appropriately placed cushioning devices for patients’ protection
  • Advanced video recording
  • A comfortable environment for patients and visitors
Matt Lynch