Abu Dhabi: A novel procedure recently performed at Shaikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), managed by Cleveland Clinic, offers hope for epilepsy patients who suffer from frequent seizures and cannot tolerate or do not respond to medication.

The procedure, Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), is enabled by a battery-powered device that is surgically implanted under the skin of the chest, much like a pacemaker, and is attached to the vagus nerve in the lower neck.

Epilepsy, one of the oldest recorded diseases, is a chronic condition characterised by repeated seizures that affects more than 60 million people worldwide. Despite its relative frequency, epilepsy is sometimes misdiagnosed, mistreated, or both.

The first time his family realised Hussain was epileptic was when he was 13. Abu Hussain, Hussain's father, told Gulf News of the shock. "None of our family members is epileptic and, till he was 13, there were no indications."

Hussain who resided in Canada at the time, was immediately enrolled in a special school that provided him with constant supervision. Till about two years ago, Hussain was struck by an epileptic attack every week.

"He'd fall to floor and become stiff for about a minute, during which he could either suffocate or end up biting his own tongue," Abu Hussain said. Since undergoing VNS, his father describes Hussain's life as "a complete change".

Less frequent

Ten years later, at 24, Hussain can now live a normal life, said his father. "Since the surgery, Hussain gets the attack once every two to three months. The frequency and intensity of his case has improved, and it takes him not more than 15 minutes after each attack to get back on his feet."

Hussain, however, was described by his father as "severely depressed".

Asked what happens if and when Hussain's epileptic attacks occur while at work, Abu Hussain said: "All it takes is a click of button, and the attack immediately stops. We're a wealthy family, my son doesn't need the money, he just needs societal support and to live a normal life."

Doctor's advice

According to Dr Maher Mansour, consultant neurosurgeon at SKMC, out of 15 patients who had the surgery, most reported a reduction in seizures of 60 to 70 per cent. Two of the patients are almost completely free from seizures.

"VNS surgery takes one hour or less. As a surgeon, one of the most rewarding things is to witness an improvement in the quality of life of the patient, since epileptic patients could suffer from emotional and social disorders," said Dr Mansour adding that even though none of the patients complained after surgery, "VNS is a programmable instrument that can be switched off in case of discomfort."

Statistics: Cases in Abu Dhabi

- 5,159 people have been diagnosed with a form of epilepsy during encounters in both private and public health care facilities

- 2.81 per cent of every 1,000 people in Abu Dhabi have epilepsy (population in Abu Dhabi in 2010 was 1.83 million)

- 49 per cent of epileptic patients were Emiratis

-  51 per cent of epileptic patients were expatriates

- 44 per cent were female patients

- 56 per cent were male patients

- 11.5 per cent of epilepsy patients are in the 25-29 age bracket