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Teen gets device to prevent sudden death from epilepsy

LOS ANGELES -- 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.

CBS Los Angeles reports 17-year-old Johnny Escolero is the first patient on the West Coast to receive the breakthrough treatment. He is recovering well after undergoing the procedure at Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Tuesday.

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 told KCBS-TV's Kristine Lazar.

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," Olga Espinoza said. "I don't sleep."

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. It monitors his heart rate, which is important because 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 his heart rate increases, the device kicks on, stimulating a nerve. "[It's] 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," explained Dr. Deborah Holder of Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

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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