Taking back her life from epilepsy

“I’m going to die,” thinks Whitney Goulstone as she lies on the ground, her body jerking violently. Her mother looks on in horror and dials 9-1-1.

Whitney was experiencing her first grand mal seizure. Although Whitney had experienced vision disturbances since the age of 13,her epilepsy went undiagnosed until University. Despite medication, Whitney’s seizures got worse, increasing in both severity and frequency. “They graduated to where I could not speak during them,” explains Whitney. “I would lose my balance and I started to suffer injuries.”

In 2007, Whitney began a new medication that helped control the seizures, and for a while it looked like things were improving. It was during this hopeful time that Whitney became pregnant with her first child. But when her son Andrew was five weeks old the seizures returned, threatening to harm not just herself but her baby too.

Another new medication helped for a time. All was going well until she was pregnant with her daughter Lillian in 2009. “One time I woke up and needed seven stitches to my head.” As a sign of Whitney’s lessening control, a baby monitor was now being used to watch over mom instead.

A trip to the Emergency Room at Toronto Western Hospital revealed toxicity in her liver, likely brought on by an allergic reaction to the seizure medication. “At this point I was in a wheelchair,” explains Whitney. “I could not bathe or dress myself. All my independence had been taken away.” At possibly the lowest point in her life, she turned to the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit for hope.

Dr. Taufik Valiante, Co-Director of the Epilepsy program at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre determined she was a good candidate for a type of specialized brain surgery that offers relief for people with drug-resistant epilepsy. Dr. Valiante is one of the few neurosurgeons in Canada to offer the procedure. On November 8th, 2010 the first surgery involved the placement of a grid directly on Whitney’s brain to monitor her seizures.

During the six-hour surgery that followed on November 25th, Dr. Valiante successfully removed a large lesion believed to be the main source of Whitney’s seizure activity.

“I have not had a seizure since,” says Whitney with amazement. “I can put my kids to bed. I am a part of their lives again.” Grateful and excited for the chance to begin a new chapter in her family’s life, Whitney looks to the future with hope. “I’m not saying I’m never going to have another seizure,” she says. “But I’m not waiting around for one to happen. I am not looking over my shoulder.”

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