Stephanie Conklin spent nearly her entire life suffering from epileptic seizures. They began at age 7 after Stephanie was struck by a car and suffered a head injury. By the time she was 21, she was up to an average of eight major seizures per month.*
After surgery, medications and various medical procedures, she was able to lead a close to a normal life. But the epilepsy continued to trouble and limit her. She gave birth to her two children, but suffered a seizure while pregnant with her daughter. She got a job at the roller rink so she could walk to work because she was not allowed to drive due to her seizure risk.
Life finally changed for Conklin in 2007 when the now 33-year-old, Sayerville, New Jersey, resident was referred to Dr. Arno Fried, founder of Advanced Neurosurgery Associates (ANA). Dr. Fried, a nationally recognized leader and innovator in neurosurgery, has performed epilepsy surgeries for over two decades.
At her initial consultation, Dr. Fried told Conklin he was 90 percent certain he could limit her seizures. “If I was lucky and things went smoothly, they would totally stop,” she said.
Conklin underwent surgery with Dr. Fried at Hackensack University Medical Center in September of 2007. Dr. Fried performed a brain mapping procedure, which consists of placing small electrical contacts, or electrodes, over the surface of the brain. Once these electrodes are in place, the scalp is closed. The electrodes record the patient’s seizures, and help the surgeon to identify the areas from which they emanate.
Dr. Fried and his team found that the seizures were originating from the left temporal lobe, an area of which he was able to then remove in a subsequent surgical procedure. The surgery was a success. Stephanie Conklin’s last seizure was March 9, 2010. Today, she drives and keeps up with her children, ages 5 and 12, who like their mom, compete in roller-skating.
Epilepsy surgery requires a multi-specialty team of experts to ensure success. Conklin’s team was comprised of ANA surgeons and staff who worked with an epileptologist, a neuropsychologist, and an EEG technician. An extensive pre-surgical workup determined the precise location that was to be removed. In addition to locating the correct site on the brain, the team had to be sure that the part they removed would not result in any neurological deficits.
Conklin’s surgery was made possible with this collaboration, which included Northeast Regional Epilepsy Group and Dr. Marcelo Lancman. Dr. Lancman and his team mapped out the seizure areas in her brain, which enabled Dr. Fried to do the surgical resection of those areas. In addition, credit goes to Hackensack Medical Center, the first Level 4 Epilepsy Center in New Jersey, where Conklin underwent surgery.
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that affects people in every country of the world. It is characterized by recurring seizures. Seizures are brief episodes of involuntary shaking that may involve a part of the body or the entire body. They are sometimes accompanied by loss of consciousness and control of bowel or bladder function.
These episodes are caused by excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. Different parts of the brain can be the site of such discharges. Seizures can vary from the briefest lapses of attention or muscle jerks, to severe and prolonged convulsions. Seizures can also vary in frequency, from less than one per year to several per day.
Almost 500 new cases of epilepsy are diagnosed every day in the United States. One in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. An estimated three million Americans and 65 million people worldwide currently live with epilepsy.
“I am more than grateful. Dr. Fried is number one on my list. I worship him. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am,” said Conklin.
At her two-year seizure-free mark, she had a plaque made for Dr. Fried, which has a picture of her connected to the grids used during her brain mapping and a big “Thank you” message. She also brought in a big box of coffee and donuts for the staff. She made an office appointment just to personally thank Dr. Fried and present him with the plaque, which now hangs in his office. In September 2012, she got a call from Dr. Fried, and the two appeared on a television segment explaining her surgery.
“Being able to keep up with the kids really took a lot out of me,” said Conklin. But after her surgery with Dr. Fried she reported, “It has brought me back to feeling almost normal and not feeling different from anyone else.”
“I was taught a Bible verse that I’ve always used to get through all the tests and surgeries. I was taught by using my hand starting off at the pinky going to my thumb and repeating: ‘I’ll NEVER LEAVE YOU STEPHANIE.’ It’s Hebrews 13:5. That is my favorite and I use it non-stop.”
In addition to her part-time roller rink job for the past 13 years at the South Amboy Arena, Conklin has recently completed studies to become an EEG technician. Inspired to enter the medical field because of her personal experience, Conklin said, “I know what it’s like to be on the other side.”