ryker brooks

News | 2 months ago

After Years of Seizures, Middle Schooler is Thriving Thanks to Epilepsy Treatment

Twelve-year-old Ryker Brooks suddenly began having seizures when he was just 5 years old. At one point, he had to be supervised all day at school because of his risk of injury. After years of medications, surgeries and poor quality of life, he’s now thriving in middle school thanks to his tailored treatment plan.

When Ryker Brooks was 5 years old, his parents, Jenny and Jason, got a call from his school they never expected: Ryker had just had a seizure. Then, over the next few weeks, he started having seizures more frequently. 

Ryker, now 12, was diagnosed with focal epilepsy, which means his seizures originate in one part of the brain. Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes recurring seizures. Seizure symptoms can include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of awareness
  • Not responding to words or noises
  • Rhythmic head nodding
  • Falling suddenly
  • Jerking movements of the legs and arms
  • Breathing issues
  • Staring
  • Stiffness in the body
  • Rapid eye blinking

“There’s an area in Ryker’s brain that has a malformation in the way it developed that causes him to have seizures,” says Dr. Kate Van Poppel, a neurologist and epilepsy specialist at Atrium Health Levine Children’s.

Ryker’s diagnosis is very common, and one in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy, adds Van Poppel.

Ryker’s epilepsy treatment

For several years after Ryker’s epilepsy diagnosis, his seizures were well-controlled with medications. His neurologist at the time recommended weaning him off the medications. But on the day of his last medication dose, Ryker started having atonic seizures. Also called “drop attacks,” atonic seizures usually last 15 seconds or less and can cause a person to fall to the ground or their eyelids to droop and their head to nod.

To evaluate the new seizures, Ryker had an MRI, which showed an abnormality in his brain. His medical team suspected a low-grade tumor, but a diagnostic surgery found that he didn’t have a tumor.

At this point, his seizures became uncontrolled, even with new medications. He had seven to 10 seizures at night and four to five during the day, sometimes falling and hurting himself.

Ryker’s quality of life suffered: Because of his risk of falling during a seizure, he had to have an adult, such as his school’s guidance counselor or support staff, with him at all times during the school day. His school days were also cut short and he went home at 12:30 p.m. because of his condition.

“It was a very scary time and a big heartbreak for him to miss so much school,” says Jenny. “He was a trooper.”

Getting Ryker’s seizures under control

Based on the recommendations of Van Poppel and his surgeon, Ryker underwent surgery in spring 2023 to remove a portion of his brain related to the seizures.

“Ryker probably has multiple areas in one hemisphere of the brain where his cells haven’t lined up correctly,” says Van Poppel. “The brain is like a computer: If a few chips are out of network and not hooked up correctly, they can cause problems. The part of his brain where his cells didn’t align correctly was removed.”

Ryker’s surgery was successful and his seizures decreased dramatically.

“Since the surgery, he’s gone from having almost 20 seizures per day to only a couple of seizures per week [mostly at night],” says Van Poppel. “It was a drastic improvement for him.”

Ryker was able to finish the school year, participating in field day and his 5th grade graduation ceremony. 

In addition, Ryker’s brother Kenan was by his side and allowed Ryker to have some independence from parents, “We trusted him to keep a watchful eye on Ryker while away from us. He is a great big brother,” says Jason.

Ryker’s fresh start in middle school

With his seizures under control, Ryker started middle school through a homeschool co-op this year and is thriving.

“He’s doing great now,” says Jenny. “He’s not having daytime seizures — his most recent surgery took away the seizures throughout the day. Occasionally, he’ll have one before bedtime. He’s still on a healing journey, but compared to where we were last year, we’ll take that.”

Jenny and Jason are grateful for the support of their family, church, faith and the Atrium Health Levine Children’s team. 

“We’ve had a great experience at Atrium Health,” says Jenny. “Any time we have a concern, they address it. They explain things well. Dr. Van Poppel never rushes us.”

“Dr. Van Poppel is so positive about everything,” adds Jason.

Ryker’s prognosis

Van Poppel is hopeful Ryker’s latest surgery and medication regimen will help control his seizures long-term. However, he may need an additional procedure, such as neurostimulation, or other medications in the future. 

“Another option for him could be responsive neurostimulation (RNS),” says Van Poppel. With this procedure, electrodes are placed in the area of the brain that’s involved in seizure production. The electrodes record an electroencephalogram (EEG) and we then program the electrodes to give stimulation when they pick up on seizure patterns.” 

Pediatric epilepsy care at Atrium Health

The good news for people with seizures is that there are many treatment options, including medications, neurostimulation, other surgical procedures and even dietary changes. Van Poppel and the pediatric epilepsy team at Atrium Health Levine Children’s consider the whole patient and their quality of life when prescribing treatment. 

“What I love about what I do is we can provide any and every type of treatment for epilepsy, including newer medications,” says Van Poppel. “We offer every type of surgical procedure, including neurostimulation. We also prescribe a ketogenic diet to some patients for their treatment. We can determine what each patient needs, and we offer all those treatments here at Atrium Health.”

Learn more about pediatric epilepsy care at Atrium Health.