A few years ago, Jessica Veach’s life was going according to plan. She’d started her career as an elementary school teacher — a dream she'd had since she was 8 years old — and was settling into married life with her husband, Colin. Jessica was also successfully managing epilepsy, which she had been diagnosed with during her freshman year at Vanderbilt University.
But in 2010, something changed.
“After 10 years of having my seizures under control with medication, they came back with a vengeance,” says Jessica, who lives in Seattle. What had been occasional simple partial seizures were now frequent complex partial seizures. Soon, Jessica was forced to take a medical leave from teaching. She had to give up driving and many of the activities she loved. And the unpredictability of her seizures, as well as the exhaustion that set in after a seizure, limited the time she was able to spend with friends.
"Giving up my independence was very difficult," she says. "I was limited to places within walking distance, or I had to rely on friends for rides."
Even with the precautions she took, Jessica faced risks. One day while Colin was at work, she fell down a flight of stairs during a seizure. “I started to be scared to do anything on my own, because I never knew when a seizure might happen,” she says. “I decided it was time to explore all of my treatment options.”
When her doctors in Seattle suggested she would be a candidate for epilepsy surgery, Jessica was intrigued. But she wanted a second opinion. So she scheduled an appointment at Mayo Clinic in Arizona and met with Katherine Noe, M.D., Ph.D., and Richard Zimmerman, M.D. Jessica says she was impressed by their knowledge, honesty, and “caring hearts.”
“Dr. Noe was so compassionate and motivated to find a solution for me,” Jessica says. "And Dr. Zimmerman was equally caring and eager to eliminate my seizures."
Before recommending surgery, Dr. Noe and Dr. Zimmerman wanted to know more about Jessica’s seizures. So she checked into Mayo Clinic Hospital and had a procedure to implant EEG (electroencephalography) probes in her brain to provide data on the type and location of her seizures.
After eight days of evaluation, the doctors had the data they needed. They recommended surgery to remove Jessica’s right temporal lobe, where her seizures originated. Jessica was told a potential complication of the procedure was peripheral vision loss. She decided it was a greater risk to keep having seizures.
Jessica had surgery on July 19, 2012, and says the results have been “life changing.”
“I’ve been seizure-free for over a year, and I still wake up every morning excited that I didn’t have a seizure throughout the night,” she says. “It’s so amazing to me that this is my new normal.”
Life has changed in other ways, too. Jessica now works for the Epilepsy Foundation Northwest as manager of the H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People with Epilepsy) Volunteer Program. She says the job is a perfect fit.
“I can relate to so many people and give them hope,” she says.
One way she tries to do that is by sharing her story and encouraging other people living with epilepsy to consider surgery.
“I know it can sound scary, but it is so worth a try,” she says. “I can’t thank everyone at Mayo enough.”
Hear more from Jessica and Colin in the video below, created for the Epilepsy Foundation Northwest.