Tacoma mom struggling with epilepsy says groundbreaking implant changed her life

TACOMA, Wash. -- When it comes to epilepsy, one in 26 Americans will develop the disorder sometime in their life. It’s the fourth most common neurological disorder and it can stem from genetics, trauma or disease.

Currently, there is no cure -- but a new groundbreaking treatment is making a difference. The device is an implant and it’s surgically placed in the skull.

Tacoma mom Paula Degraw says the treatment saved her life.

Diagnosed with epilepsy at 19, the neurological disorder defined Degraw's life.

“I would have never gone out in public without my husband and son; I would be so afraid of having a seizure,” Degraw said.

Sometimes Degraw suffered up to 70 seizures a month that would leave her unconscious or tired from convulsions.

“Put me in a state of: What am I going to do, my life is over,” Degraw said.

She couldn’t drive and couldn’t go to work.

“I have no self-worth, I have nothing to contribute to my family,” Degraw said.

The Tacoma mom says everything changed when a doctor at Swedish Hospital told her about the RNS system by Neuropace. It's like a pacemaker -- but for the brain.

“It is FDA approved, it's a unique system,” Neuropace CEO Frank Fischer said.

Fischer says the implant in the skull monitors brainwaves.

“The device is monitoring the seizures 24 hours a day,” Fischer said.

When it detects unusual activity, the device kicks in, fighting the source of the seizure. The system also collects data, allowing physicians to review it at any time.

“Thirty percent of the patients had 90% or greater reduction in seizure frequency,” Fischer said.

In Degraw’s case, she only gets a handful of seizures a month now -- and when it happens, they are significantly less debilitating.

“If you can do it, talk to your doctor about it because I can’t say enough,” Degraw said.

The device is meant for patients who do not respond to medications and those who have seizures that affect only a part of the brain.

The 46-year-old can finally say she has epilepsy but it doesn’t have her.

“I am not defined by an illness anymore. I am my own person, it doesn’t define who I am,” Degraw said.

Degraw has her confidence back and is coaching high school sports and plans to open a mobile karaoke business with her husband.

Fischer says every patient will react to the device differently but contends virtually all patients have seen improvements.