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On Memorial Day weekend when Sam Cooper was eight years old, he decided to go for a walk with his dad and brother near a farmhouse that his father owned. Unfortunately, while walking on the road, Sam accidently stepped into the path of an oncoming ATV and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The blunt force trauma was devastating. He was in a coma for six days and had bruising on his brain. Doctors worked around-the-clock to ensure he would survive. Thankfully, they succeeded.
Following months of rehabilitation, Sam was able to start leading the life of a normal third grader. But the effects of the accident remained with him. He began having severe aura migraines, meaning before the migraine occurred, he would experience visual symptoms like geometric patterns and flashing lights.
Sam suffered through these migraines for most of his childhood and into adulthood, having two to three per week and on occasion, multiple ones per day.
Then, when Sam was 26, he had his first grand mal seizure – a type of seizure that causes loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. He was placed on medication to treat the seizures, and was eventually diagnosed with epilepsy at age 30. But the medications could only do so much. A few months after being diagnosed, he developed status epilepticus, which is a prolonged period of seizure.
“I was basically having multiple seizures over and over again,” says Sam. “I think I had about six within an hour. Afterwards I was pretty out of it for a while and knew that this would be a continuing problem if I didn’t get help.”
As time passed, the thought of having a seizure was always on Sam’s mind. Then, when he suffered another grand mal seizure while jogging, he took to the Internet for some answers.
The research Sam did online pointed him to one place – UPMC – and neurosurgeon and epilepsy expert Mark Richardson, MD, PhD. Sam reached out to Dr. Richardson and within a few days, his appointment was scheduled.
Sam underwent a series of brain ping and brain function tests to pinpoint the part of the brain responsible for the seizures, and to determine whether critical functions, such as speech, would be negatively affected if that portion of the brain were removed.
“I went through all testing, and was approved for surgery,” says Sam. “I knew that this was the best option for me. I couldn’t live my life with the constant fear of having a seizure at any time.”
Using a combination of preoperative and intraoperative brain ping technology to guide the procedure – a temporal lobectomy – Dr. Richardson and his team removed the part of Sam’s brain that was causing the seizures.
“After the surgery, I was with my family and we knew that this was the best decision we could have made, “says Sam.
Nearly a year following the surgery, Sam is back to his normal self. “I can do all the things I enjoy, it’s a great feeling” he says. “I just ran a 10 mile run, which is the furthest I’ve ever ran due to the fact that I no longer worry about having a seizure.”
Sam is also back to working full time at a commercial real estate company and is enjoying spending more time with his children.
“Life has been great since I had the surgery, and I really can’t thank Dr. Richardson enough,” he says. “He’s been here for me this whole time and even visited me while I was recovering in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. I’ll never forget that.”
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had minimally invasive brain surgery at UPMC. Although everyone's care experience is unique, we hope that sharing these stories will help other prospective patients and their families better understand these procedures and their potential benefits.
Sam's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.