Carle has new epilepsy center

Carle has new epilepsy center

URBANA — Local children and adults with epilepsy now have a treatment center close to home.

A new epilepsy center at Carle's main Urbana campus is treating patients who had to travel as far as Springfield, St. Louis or Chicago for specialized care for the potentially life-threatening condition that causes chronic seizures, Carle officials say.

The new center has two epilepsy specialists, one for adults and one for children — and offers such services as a 24-hour monitoring unit for diagnosis, inpatient treatment for the acutely ill, illness management for outpatients and epilepsy surgery.

It will also be involved in research with the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, with patients already being recruited for the first of three projects, says Dr. Graham Huesmann, an epilepsy specialist treating adults at the new center.

Huesmann came to Carle from a neurology residency and two-year fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

What drew him here was the chance to establish an epilepsy treatment program in an area where there was a need, he said. Plus, he liked the connection it offers to research at the UI, where he received his MD/PhD.

Huesmann said he aims to end seizures for his patients, and while success depends on the individual patient, "that is my goal."

"The thing I have been seeing a lot of in the clinic is patients who have been managed by a primary care doctor who has been doing the best they can. But it's not really the best possible treatment that the patients can get," he said.

With about 20 medications available to treat epilepsy patients, Huesmann said he doesn't plan to prescribe medical cannabis, provided Gov. Pat Quinn signs off on an expansion of the state's medical cannabis pilot program that was approved late last month. The measure broadened the list of debilitating conditions eligible for use of medical marijuana to include seizures, including those that are characteristic of epilepsy, for both adults and minors.

However, Huesmann said, "I will not be prescribing it unless a clinical trial proves efficacy."

So far, he hasn't seen that kind of proof.

"It may be effective, but my practice has to be based on medical evidence," he said.

The only possible exception he might consider is a strain of medical marijuana called Charlotte's Web, and maybe only as "a Hail Mary pass because nothing else is working," Huesmann said.

Charlotte's Web is high in cannabidiol but doesn't produce the "high" associated with marijuana use.

Epilepsy affects more than 2 million people in the U.S., and it can be caused by many conditions affecting the brain. Oftentimes the cause is unknown. Just over eight people out of 1,000 in the U.S. report they have active epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

One out of 10 adults will suffer a seizure at some point during life, Huesmann said, though epilepsy isn't diagnosed until someone has had two seizures.

Carle's center can serve patients throughout the Midwest, and he is already seeing patients coming from out of state in need of a specialist, Huesmann said.

The center has three monitoring rooms in Carle's new tower addition.

Patients with possible seizures can be admitted and monitored to try and determine the cause, and patients with known seizures can also be taken off seizure medication in a safe, controlled environment and monitored to see if they are candidates for an epilepsy cure surgery, he said.

Huesmann said a surgery option he offers for adults is temporal lobe epilepsy surgery, in which part of the brain causing seizures is removed.

The surgery "is done after a very long and careful work-up to make sure it is done as safely as possible," he said.

3 things to know about epilepsy

1. The cause is undetermined for half of all people who have it, but some conditions that have been known to lead to epilepsy include oxygen deprivation, brain infections, traumatic brain or head injury, brain tumors, certain genetic disorders and stroke resulting from blocked arteries.

2. Most states and the District of Columbia won't issue a driver's license to someone with epilepsy without documented evidence of a seizure-free period.

3. Nearly 150,000 people in the U.S. develop epilepsy each year.

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