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Discovering the Keys to Seizure Freedom

Discovering the Keys to Seizure Freedom

Richard Davis’ success with epilepsy treatment allows him to navigate his life—and the open road

Richard Davis, 79, had his first seizure—a grand mal seizure—at the age of 26 while living in New York City. Doctors didn’t know what caused it, but they determined it was not genetic.

Davis’ seizures took off from there, taking place every two to three weeks. Eventually they began happening every day—sometimes up to 12 times, with each lasting from 20 seconds to a minute. Davis would often flail his arms and legs and make loud noises during these episodes, but he never remembered the event afterward.

The seizures became so debilitating that Davis lost his driver’s license; countless relationships; and many jobs, including the business he started with his wife, Judi. It got so bad that when his 16-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant, doctors told Davis he would be unable to give him his marrow because of all the seizure medications he was on.

“My seizures tore up my life completely,” he says. “Epilepsy completely took over my world.”

The Journey to Seizure Freedom

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes unusual sensations, behaviors and seizures—ranging from faraway stares to fits or convulsions. Sometimes people are born with the condition, while others, like Davis, get it later in life. Epilepsy can result in stress, social isolation, financial burden, negative moods, and loss of independence and cognitive ability.

The starting point to treating epilepsy is with medication.

“Always, the goal is to obtain seizure freedom with the least invasive, lowest-risk intervention,” says epileptologist Paul Lyons, MD, who founded the Virginia Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Winchester Medical Center with neurosurgeon Lee Selznick, MD. “We evaluate the risk of
disease burden versus the risk of treatment and the benefit of intervention.”

According to Dr. Lyons, once an individual with epilepsy fails two appropriate seizure medications, the likelihood of seizure freedom with other medications is only 1% to 5%.

In 2012, when Davis had his first appointment with Dr. Lyons, he had already failed seven seizure medications and was ready to try almost anything. He wanted seizure freedom not only for himself, but for his wife, Judi, who had remained loyally by his side through it all. “I didn’t want her to go through my seizures anymore,” he says.

Through a decades-long partnership with Dr. Lyons and Dr. Selznick, chief of Neurosurgery at Winchester Medical Center, Davis underwent 12 to 15 interventions, including dietary changes; several new medications; vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), which involves the use of an implanted device to stimulate the vagus nerve with electrical impulses; and intracranial monitoring followed by a procedure in which Dr. Selznick removed several areas in his brain causing seizures.

The treatments have been a success: Davis’ last seizure was on April 19, 2021.

“The last time I saw him as a patient, he was counting down the days until he could get his driver’s license and buy his dream car,” Dr. Selznick recalls. “This kind of life-changing surgery is the most rewarding thing I do as a neurosurgeon.”

Dr. Lyons says the treatment for epilepsy is never one-size-fits-all, and what worked for Davis might not be what others are ready for or need on their journey to seizure freedom.

“The right treatment for any patient with epilepsy is really what the person decides to do, based on where they are in their life, their level of support, and what they are willing to accept in terms of risk,” Dr. Lyons says. “We take the person where they are and put before them the available options. It’s not just a medical or surgical journey. It’s really a personal journey and a spiritual journey of perseverance.”

The Keys to Freedom

After waiting for 42 long years, Davis was finally able to get his driver’s license and immediately got behind the wheel on March 8, 2022, after purchasing a blue 2018 Jaguar. Now, he finds every excuse to drive—and he often takes the long way. Since March he’s driven more than 2,800 miles.

“I just want to get out and go,” he says. “Forty-two years without a license … you have no idea.”

He enjoys offering rides to the people whom he used to rely on to escort him places, and he likes taking roads he’s never been on before. He’s thankful for his loving wife, along with the relationship he has built with Valley Health and Dr. Lyons and Dr. Selznick. He’s currently on four epilepsy medications and sees Dr. Lyons yearly.

“Dr. Lyons is the finest neurologist, and we are so very, very fortunate to have met him and Dr. Selznick,” Davis says.

Dr. Lyons says cases like that of Davis reinforce why he became a doctor.

“Mr. Davis’ course was unusual. He was able to persevere through his 70s and never gave up. He’s inspired me personally and professionally.
He’s kind of a home run.”

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