Uncontrollable seizures that can’t be stopped with drugs, an estimated one in five children with epilepsy does not respond to medication. Now, patients and their parents are getting new treatment options with a medical breakthrough that uses lasers to stop the seizures.

When Jessie Fernandez was little, she woke up every morning scared.

“I was getting up every day thinking what if I have a seizure today?” Jessie told Ivanhoe.

She had her first epileptic seizure when she was ten, after that she would have one, two, up to five seizures a day. 

“In our class they don’t have desks or chairs, they have stools. So, I was just doing my work and I fell back and hit my head and they called the ambulance,” Jessie said.

The seizures were caused by a small brain tumor. When medication didn’t help, her only option was an invasive, brain surgery.

“Traditionally, the way we perform those surgeries is actually to remove part of the brain that’s causing the seizures,” Dr. John Ragheb, Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Miami Children’s Hospital, told Ivanhoe.

Jessie had a different type of surgery called Visualase Laser Ablation.  An MRI focuses on the target area. A laser fiber is inserted into the skull.  Heat from the laser then destroys the tissue causing the seizures and the tumor.

“We can accurately target just the tissue we want to destroy and protect the surrounding normal areas,” Dr. Ragheb said.

Today, Jessie doesn’t worry about seizures. She’s focused on her future and hopes to become a neurologist one day.

Jessie is still seizure free. Recovery from the procedure is quick. Most patients go home the next day, compared to a week in the hospital with traditional brain surgery. So far, the technique has been used on about 300 patients in the U.S. with many types of epilepsy. The doctor says the results seem comparable to traditional surgery, but it will take time to know for sure.


Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. It is also referred to as a seizure disorder. When a person has two or more seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy. A seizure happens when a brief, strong jolt of electrical activity affects the brain. One in ten adults will have a seizure at some point during their lifetime. Seizures can last a few seconds or up to a few minutes. Symptoms can include loss of consciousness, convulsions, lip smacking, jerking movements of arms and legs, and blank staring. (Source: www.epilepsyfoundation.org 


RISKS:  Approximately 200,000 new cases of seizures and epilepsy occur every year.  The underlying risk of developing epilepsy is about one percent.  However, people in certain populations are at an increased risk.  For example, it is estimated that epilepsy can be expected in:

• 25.8 percent of children with mental retardation

• 13 percent of children with cerebral palsy

• 50 percent of children with both disabilities

• 10 percent of Alzheimer’s patients

• 22 percent of stroke patients

• 33 percent of people who have had a single, unprovoked seizure (Source: www.epilepsyfoundation.org)    


EPILEPSY & THE BRAIN:  The brain is the source of epilepsy.  Symptoms can affect any part of the body, but the electrical events that produce the symptoms occur in the brain.  The location of that event, how long the event lasts, and the extent of its reach within the tissue of the brain all have profound effects.  These factors determine the character of the seizure, the social consequences, and its impact on the patient. (Source: www.epilepsyfoundation.org)   


NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Treating brain lesions are risky.  The blood-brain barrier, which normally protects the brain from harmful chemicals, also keeps out many types of drugs.  The new technology called Visualase offers people with epilepsy another option.  It is a laser technology that utilizes light energy to destroy soft tissue, including damaged tissue and tumor.  The energy from the laser is delivered to the lesion using a laser probe.  When light is delivered through the laser probe, temperatures in the target area rise and destroy the unwanted tissue.  The procedure is guided by MRI images, so it can provide precise targeting. The patient is wide awake throughout the procedure.  It doesn’t require radiation or a skull flap (the large skull opening in traditional craniotomies).  It is minimally invasive and causes minimal or no pain during or after the procedure.  It also does not limit use of additional or other treatment options.  (Source: http://www.visualaseinc.com/)