Brain Implant Helps Stop Seizures

As he strolls the grounds of a Pennsylvania farm, Stephen Neilly looks every bit the pioneer. And in fact, he is -- a medical pioneer -- on a quest to free himself from the epilepsy that has ravaged his life.

"I'm tired of it," he told CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin. "You would be tired of it, too."

For 10 years Neilly has suffered seizures so frequent and violent he lost a successful business, his marriage, his independence. He needs constant supervision so he left his sons and life in California and moved to his parents' farm.

"It's a heartbreak, it's a heartbreak," said his mother.

But, not one to feel sorry for himself -- Neilly is fighting back. He's one of a small group of epileptics willing to try an extreme treatment to keep seizures at bay.

"I'm not a person to sit back and say well, okay let someone else be a guinea pig," he said. "Well, I'm sorry, if they have a cure for epilepsy, I'll try it."

Buried deep inside Neilly's brain are electrodes hooked up to a device called a deep brain stimulator, implanted as part of a clinical trial back in April.

The electrodes are wired through the scalp and neck and attached to a pacemaker-like device in the chest. When turned on, the equipment sends rapid-fire electrical signals directly into the area where seizures tend to originate.

"It's a constant pulsation that's being sent to the brain," said Dr. Michael Kaplitt.

"Almost like a time release?" asked Kaledin.

"That's exactly right, that's exactly right," he said.

Kaplitt is Steven Neilly's surgeon.

"This particular approach doesn't attempt to predict seizures, but rather continually sends these pulses in the hopes of simply stopping the seizures in the first place," Kaplitt said.

The theory is the regular barrage of electrical current disrupts the irregular activity of a seizure. Experts believe stimulating the brain with electricity could prove a powerful weapon against a number of other disorders, including Parkinson's disease and depression.

Several months later Stephen Neilly notices a difference.

"I used to have four a week, and I'm down to two. To me, that's great -- one to two a week," he said. "But I'll keep going until I find something."

Results of the experiment won't be ready for a few years, but doctors have high hopes -- and so does Stephen Neilly -- that going directly into the brain is the key to making epilepsy something he can live with.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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