LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — There is new hope for young people with epilepsy after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the implantation of a special device aimed at preventing people from dying in their sleep.
Johnny Escolero became the first patient on the West Coast to receive the breakthrough treatment at Children's Hospital Los Angeles after being operated on a day ago.
The graduating senior suffers from as many as 250 seizures a day, but most of the time he remains conscious and aware of what's going on.
"It's really hard. You can hear the bones cracking and you could kind of twist a little and it hurts when you twist," he said.
But his biggest concern is when he has a seizure overnight as 58 percent of sudden, unexplained epilepsy deaths occur during sleep.
"Sometimes I stop breathing and sometimes I change colors," he said.
His mother used to sleep in her son's bed, but now that he is a teenager, she reluctantly lets him sleep alone.
"I choose the room across him so I'd be able to hear him breathe, you know, at least. I don't sleep," Olga Espinoza said.
After years of sleepless nights, doctors have given Johnny and his mother hope in the form of the device called the AspireSR.
The device, which has a sensor attached, was implanted in Johnny's chest.
"All day long it kind of monitors his heart rate," Deborah Holder, a doctor at CHLA, said.
Studies have shown that more than 80 percent of people with epilepsy will have a rapid increase in their heart rate right before a seizure.
When the heart rate increases, the device kicks on, stimulating a nerve.
"Which is a nerve in the neck that sends information up to the brain and by stimulating this nerve off and on during the day, we can send information to the brain, change the way the brain works, and we can decrease seizures," the doctor said.
After the procedure, Johnny and his mother went home and took a three-hour nap. It's the most uninterrupted sleep they say they've both had in years.
"We so happy. I have the goosebumps that it making a difference for him already," Espinoza said.
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