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At the Bedside: Young patient nearly seizure-free, thanks to VNS, laser ablation at UTHealth Houston

Written By: Caitie Barkley, UTHealth Houston | Updated: January 11, 2024
Young girl in hospital bed looking at laptop

Following vagus nerve stimulation therapy, Sofia Speir underwent a successful laser ablation procedure for her epilepsy in fall 2021. (Photo courtesy of Megan Speir)

When Megan Speir’s 18-month-old daughter, Sofia, started drooling on one side of her mouth during bath time, Megan initially thought Sofia was playing with her. But as Sofia’s eyes glazed over and the right side of her body went limp, Megan realized something was wrong. She called her husband, who suspected Sofia was having a seizure. The baby was rushed to the hospital, where Sofia was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.

Gretchen K. Von Allmen
Gretchen Von Allmen, MD

But after multiple trips to the emergency room, Megan grew frustrated with that diagnosis and suspected that there was something else going on. She took Sofia to a clinic in Pearland, where she was diagnosed with epilepsy. After Sofia’s doctor at that clinic retired, and medication after medication didn’t work, Megan explored other care options. An acquaintance recommended Gretchen Von Allmen, MD, professor and director of the pediatric epilepsy program with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. Von Allmen is also the Jacobo Geissler Distinguished Chair in West Syndrome Research with McGovern Medical School.

Sofia Speir Image
Sofia, pictured with her mom Megan and brother Judah, is now in the fourth grade. (Photo courtesy of Megan Speir)

Sofia began seeing Von Allmen as a toddler and worked with the family to find a treatment plan that worked. However, by the time she turned 4, her seizures hadn’t improved. Von Allmen recommended Sofia undergo vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy, which involves sending regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. In January 2018, Sofia underwent the procedure, which helped manage her seizures for three years. However, as Sofia hit a growth spurt, her seizures became more frequent and violent.

Von Allmen encouraged the family to consider laser ablation treatment, which uses heat to target and remove the region where the seizures begin. In fall 2021, then 7-year-old Sofia underwent the treatment, and has only experienced one seizure in the two years since.

Olga Rodziyevska
Olga Rodziyevska, PA-C

“Before she had the ablation, they told us she could lose her memory. So much of who she is, is in her frontal lobe where her seizures were originating,” Megan said of her now 9-year-old daughter, who likes to sing and write songs. “But it’s been so successful. I believe we’ve seen a miracle in what she’s gone through.”

Today, Sofia continues to see Von Allmen and Olga Rodziyevska, PA-C, a physician assistant with Von Allmen’s epilepsy program at UT Physicians, for check-ups.

At the Bedside is a series of patient stories with UTHealth Houston physicians and staff.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.