Special diet changes young epilepsy patient's life

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Doctors at Children's Mercy Hospital have given a little boy a new chance at life by changing what he eats.

Pediatric neurologists are still trying to figure out what causes childhood epilepsy, but are starting to rely more and more on food as their drug of choice instead of medicine to treat young epileptic patients. They said diet can entirely reverse a patients' prognosis.

It worked for Santiago Segura. He's not your average kid. Since he was 6 months old, he's been fighting for a normal life.

His mother, Bertha Guillen, said her 3-year-old boy functions more like a 12-month-old. He's still learning to fully walk, talk and process like a child his age because his first few years of life were overwhelmed with seizures.

Guillen said Santiago suffered through as many as 100 a day and the trauma on Santiago's body put other life functions on hold.

"It's heartbreaking," Guillen said. "Your child is seizing and you're sitting next to him and you can't do anything to make the seizures stop."

When medications did not work, Dr. Ahmed Abdelmoity did something that stopped the seizures nearly overnight.  He told Santiago's mother to limit the child's carbohydrates and increase his fat intake.

She said she was willing to try anything.
"He doesn't drink milk but he does drink heavy creams and it's so high in fat," she said.

Within a week, Santiago's epileptic seizures went away.

Ketogenic diets have been around for years, but when patients don't respond to drugs, doctors turn to diet as a solution. Children's Mercy Hospital said more of their young epileptic patients are responding.

High proteins and high fats force the body to burn fat stores instead of carbs or glucose for energy.

"With this diet, we're removing the fuel that's being used to fuel a seizure," Lindsey Thompsen, a clinical nutritionist at Children's Mercy Hospital said.

"Tends to make the brain calmer from a seizure standpoint and also a better quality of life and makes patients feel happier and better academic success in school," Santiago's pediatric neurologist Dr. Ahmed Abdelmoity said.

The ketogenic diets are also being used on patients with other neurologic conditions like Alzheimer's and Multiple Sclerosis.

It has been more than a year since Santiago has had a seizure. The new diet created a new condition: smiles. His mother said she believes that's the real recipe of life.

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