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SPETL: Brain Surgery Through the Lip!

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WGEM) — For about half of all people with epilepsy, medication controls the seizures … but for others, once medication fails, brain surgery becomes the best option.

Now, for the first time in the U.S., an epilepsy expert and a team of skull base surgeons have developed a new approach.

39-year-old Joey Chasko loves to bake with mom Linda.

Some days, Joey needs help with details. He’s had seizures since birth, but two years ago, they got worse.

“They started to come more often, about, like, every two or three weeks,” recalled Joey.

Even with three daily medications twice a day, nothing stopped the seizures. Brain surgery was the next step.

“It was his choice, but at the same time, it was a scary decision to make,” explained Joey’s mom, Linda Chasko.

Joey’s doctor thought he would be the perfect candidate for a new approach pioneered by a team of surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

For the past decade, surgeons have performed endonasal surgery for epilepsy — accessing the brain through the nose.

Now, the surgeons wanted a better angle to visualize the brain.

“Instead of going through the nose, we went through what we call the gingival labial fold, which is inside the mouth,” illustrated Jorge Gonzalez-Martinez, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

By going through the inside of the lip, surgeons leave more of the brain intact.

“Now, we are removing small areas, as I said, size of an olive, perhaps the size of a cherry, very localized, very focal,” Dr. Gonzalez-Martinez described.

Joey had some facial numbness, but no seizures.

He’s looking forward to some day being completely medicine-free.

“And I could get back to a regular normal life and not have to worry about anything,” Joey shared.

The UPMC team has performed this new surgery on two other patients in addition to Joey. Doctors say all three are recovering well.

The new procedure has now been dubbed the Sublabial Pittsburgh Endoscopic Temporal Lobe — or “SPETL” approach.


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Don Dwyer

Don Dwyer is a Morning Anchor/Reporter at WGEM.

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