by Lynn Meredith
ELBURN—Kaneland graduate Alli Rowland looks back on a day when she was in choir class and told her teacher that she didn’t feel well. She knew the symptoms and realized she was going into a seizure. Thankfully, these events didn’t happen often during school, but it’s been a long journey to get her seizures caused by epilepsy under control. After undergoing surgery on Nov. 14, 2011, Alli is now hoping that they will go away all together.
“I get an aura. I get a color patch, and when I get really bad my eyes will just go around,” Alli said.
In her childhood, Alli had migraine headaches. Then in fourth grade she experienced her first seizure. Doctors said that she’d outgrow the migraines—which she did—but she started having seizures instead. Before she was diagnosed and started medication, she might have 8-10 seizures a day.
“When you start having them, you have one and the intensity increases. The type of seizure changes. She’s had a couple of grand mals (a type of seizure most commonly associated with epilepsy), but (doctors) don’t want you to do that. They try to prevent it,” said Cindy Rowland, Alli’s mother. “Five years ago she had a grand mal that slowly progressed. They gave her meds and she didn’t respond, so they gave her more and she coded. She was in a drug-induced coma for five days.”
It is considered to be epilepsy when a person has multiple seizures. A condition like Alli’s is not fully developed until the brain is fully developed. That’s why she had migraines first that then developed into seizures.
The Rowland family saw Alli take more and more medications with side effects like excessive sleepiness that affected her quality of life. The meds would work for six months, and then her body would get used to them. When they switched to a team of doctors at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, they found greater understanding of the condition.
“The doctor said that treating the seizures was one thing, but we’ve got to get her a better quality of daily life,” Cindy said. “They started testing two years ago, and they thought she might be a candidate for surgery.”
Meanwhile, Alli had gone off to college at Lincoln College near Springfield. She returned home after a year and attended Waubonsee Community College, so she could continue the increasingly frequent tests needed before she could have the surgery—a total of a year and a half of testing. One final test stood before Alli and the surgery, and it was a tough one.
“They put half my brain to sleep and asked me all these questions. All I remember was that my one eye was going crazy and I said, ‘Wait, hold on. I can’t answer this,’” Alli said.
The test, which is like an angiogram, inserts medication into the groin where it travels to the brain. The purpose is to show doctors what functions are on that half of the brain for that individual. The brain is then woken up, given a couple hours of recovery, and then the other half is put to sleep. The test took 15 hours to complete.
“It was so painful. It was horrible. Afterwards, I said, ‘This is such a terrible thing I just had,’” Alli said.
Alli had another ordeal to go through: shaving her long hair, which she donated to Locks of Love. She had a surprise when her two brothers, Matt, 25, and Nick, 18, came into her room with their heads shaved.
“They walked in and their hair was really short, and I said, ‘Am I seeing this right?’” Alli said.
The surgery consisted of two operations, a week apart. In the first operation, doctors opened up the left brain and implanted wires— 114 of them—which were then fed into a grid. During the week, doctors tested Alli while she remained off medication, and waited for her to have a seizure. Then they could see on the grid the location of the seizure in the brain.
A week later, surgeons opened up Alli’s skull and removed the wires. They then removed a section of her brain in the ocipital lobe of the left hemisphere. They closed her up with 49 staples, leaving a scar in the shape of a backwards C on her head.
Now, the Rowlands will wait for a year to know if the surgery was a success. Alli will taper off from her medications and see if she has any more seizures. So far, it’s looking good.
“Right now it looks like it was 100 percent successful because she hasn’t had any seizures” Cindy said. “Her story is one to share for people who aren’t aware of what epilepsy is and what can be done.”