Medical Breakthroughs: Epilepsy Stimulator

It looks like a pacemaker but it prevents seizures. Medicaid has just approved use of a new stimulator for Colorado's youngest epilepsy patients. Surgeons place what looks like a pacemaker just under the skin in the shoulder, and tiny wires go up into the neck and wrap around a major nerve that can sometimes head off seizures.

Like a pacemaker, implanted just beneath the skin under the collar bone, the stimulator sends tiny signals to calm brain activity.

The Vagus Nerve Stimulation can be a good choice for children who do not respond to epilepsy medications. Although the VNS stimulator is not a cure for epilepsy it is reducing the number of seizures, and the Epilepsy Foundation believes patients will find relief.

Patients sometimes feel a little tingling in their chin during impulses, and get a hoarse voice. Otherwise, no other side effects. The device costs about $20,000, but doctors say it saves far more than that in emergency visits and injuries during seizures.