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TRAINING THE TEMPEST

Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy

September 15, 2014, 12:00 PM
Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy
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In late 2003, while searching for support for her adult daughter’s treatment, Kathi Penn came across the national nonprofit Epilepsy Foundation, which brought Tiffany Penn under its care. When a series of medications failed to control her life-long seizure disorder, a new therapy dubbed vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, was recommended for her.

Vagus nerves are a pair of lengthy and meandering nerves — one on each side of the body — that runs from the brainstem through the neck and chest to the abdomen. It branches off to parts of the body, including the ears, voice box, lungs, heart, esophagus and stomach, and conducts motor impulses from the brain to these body structures to govern their reflex responses while supplying sensation to them.

A neurological ‘pacemaker’

The VNS therapy uses a device called the vagus nerve stimulator, which is a battery-powered generator surgically implanted under the skin on the left upper chest. It is connected to the left vagus nerve via a lead, which is a flexible wire tunneled under the skin. When the generator is activated, the device transmits electrical pulses through the vagus nerve to the brainstem, which then sends signals to other areas of the brain.

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