A Life Regained: How Surgery Gave One Man His Life Back

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Chris Marten’s adult life had barely begun when it was suddenly put on hold. While out driving late at night with a friend, Chris, then 18, experienced a grand mal seizure, the worst kind possible.

“The last thing I remember was coming to a stop sign. The next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance,” said Chris, 34, of Santa Ana. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

For the next eight years, Chris experienced three to four “absence seizures” a day, during which he would “blank out” for a few seconds. He thought of each of those momentary lapses in consciousness as a “déjà vu,” a term he still uses to describe them because they differ so completely from the three grand mal seizures he has endured in his life.

Medications kept more intense seizures mostly at bay, but they also dulled Chris’s mind and altered his moods, squashing any plans the young man had for the future. His independence was stripped, too. He stopped driving and relied heavily on his mom and sister for transportation to and from school and work.

Then, after 15 years of semi-successful treatment, Chris learned about Hoag Epilepsy Program at Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, the most comprehensive neurosciences program in Orange County. With more than three million Americans of every age affected by epilepsy – and nearly 500 new cases each day – Hoag’s comprehensive, specialized services are customized to help even the most debilitating cases.

At Hoag, Chris met Dr. David Millett, a board-certified neurologist specializing in seizures and epilepsy.

“Right off the bat, Dr. Millett seemed like he could help me,” Chris said. “He recommended switching medications and told me about a surgery they could do. Up until that point, I didn’t know there was a surgical option.”

Chris was hesitant about surgery “because having a piece of my brain taken out seemed drastic,” but after several consultations with the comprehensive epilepsy team and his entire family (“Everybody was there, my dad, my mom, my step-mom, my sister. My surgeon was bombarded.”), Chris began to feel it was the right approach for him.

Throughout his time at Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, Chris says he and his family were impressed by everyone associated with the epilepsy center, from the nurses who educated him about epilepsy while keeping him upbeat and laughing to Dr. Millett and neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Liu, who listened to his concerns and genuinely wanted to help him.

Through advanced clinical testing, doctors were able to pinpoint the precise area of Chris’s brain responsible for the seizures interrupting his daily life. In May 2016, Chris had a single surgery that gave him his life back.

Today, Chris is seizure-free. He is being weaned off a low dose of medication and is back to driving, hiking, woodworking, and all the activities he had to give up so many years ago. In a moment of reflection, Chris said he feels two things he hasn’t felt since he was a teenager: clarity and hope.

“All I’ve known for the longest time was how I was. There was no break from it, no relief,” Chris says. “Now I’m more energetic, more hopeful. I used to be tired all the time and did not want to do anything. Now I want to do everything. It’s a life-changer.”

“I’m optimistic about the future,” Chris says. “Hoag offered me a new life.”