Brain surgery is dream come true for reporter

A COUNTY TIMES reporter, who underwent life-changing brain surgery last summer, aims to raise £1,000 for epilepsy charities this year.

Anna Coe, 29, has had epilepsy for 20 years and at its worst, when she was a teenager, she was having about 40 seizures every month.

Medication reduced the seizures to eight a month, but in June 2011 she took the brave decision to the operation to remove the part of her brain which specialists at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) in London found was causing the seizures.

Since the nine-hour operation, which is carried out on less than 50 epilepsy patients a year, she has been seizure-free, and now she wants to raise awareness of the condition by taking part in a series of fundraising events.

Anna, who is one of 600,000 people in the UK who has epilepsy, said: “For 20 years, this condition controlled my life. I had to watch my diet, my sleeping patterns and everyday activities to limit the chances of me having them.

“Any small stress on the body, like tiredness, excitement or a late meal would increase the risk of having one.

“I am blessed that the epilepsy did not restrict my ability to work or have a successful university education, but I still lived in the knowledge I could have a seizure at any time and was dependent on family, friends and colleagues to look after me when I had them.”

Anna said when she first learned she could have the surgery it was ‘a landmark’ in her journey with the condition.

“When my consultant told me in August 2010 I could have the operation and it had a 50 per cent chance of getting rid of the seizures and 25 per cent of reducing the number of seizures I had, I didn’t think twice.

“I had been looking for this answer for years. I’d tried ten medications, three of which I still take. This is the best chance I’ve got of living a seizure-free life.”

However the procedure that Anna had was rare. Consultant neurosurgeon Andrew McEvoy at the NHNN, who performed her operation, said: “We operate on the brain every day, but a temporal lobe resection is not very common.

“I am the only surgeon at The National that does it because it’s quite a specialist operation. We probably do 30 to 40 every year here. When Anna had the operation we had the first interventional MRI scanner in the UK.

“There’s now one in Liverpool, but using the scanner we could stop the operation at any time, do a scan and check we have got all the abnormal tissue out.”

Anna cannot thank the surgeon and medical staff at the NHNN enough.

She said: “The epilepsy team in London has been great. It’s a dream come true, but there is so much work to be done to raise awareness of epilepsy and I still don’t know if I’ll be seizure-free for life.

“People don’t realise there are 40 types of seizure, some of which can just look like the person is day dreaming.”

However, Anna’s seizures were far more dramatic in nature.

“When I had them, I lost awareness, screamed for a couple of minutes and then walked around dazed and confused until I was fully recovered within about 20 minutes.

“These aren’t the stereotype and I want to raise this money not only to help people like me, but also to help the wider public understand epilepsy better.

“One in 20 people will have a seizure at some point in their life. It impacts on families and friends and it changes their life.

“Some people are refused jobs because of their epilepsy, which is illegal, but it happens and it has to stop.”

She and her husband Scott will be taking part in a ten-mile sponsored walk on Sunday May 20 to raise money for Epilepsy Action.

They will be organising a cake sale in the summer in aid of the Epilepsy Society and in the autumn host a pizza party for the National Brain Appeal.

She added: “Epilepsy will always be a part of who I am. I want to raise at least £1,000. These are all such great causes and anybody can take part in these events. The Guildford Epilepsy Action branch is hosting walks of three different lengths for all abilities.”

Anyone who would like to sponsor her or take part in the events can contact her on annacoe244@btinternet.com or 01293 881938 or make an online donatition via www.justgiving.com/AnnaandScottCoe

For more information about epilepsy go to www.epilepsy.org.uk