WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA)-- Imagine having uncontrolled seizures and never knowing when they could hit. It's a reality for over 50 million people with epilepsy worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Michael Beittel, 58, of Boonsboro, Md., lived with epilepsy since the age of two.
"One evening, I literally fell. I'd never fallen during a seizure," Beittel said. He was able to cope with the occasional seizures until it started affecting his job about seven years ago.
Beittel's seizures kept getting worse. Doctors tried several different medications to control the seizures, but nothing worked.
Beittel qualified for a surgery called temporal lobectomy, this is a procedure that would remove a small part of the temporal lobe section of the brain. According to experts, the majority of epileptic seizures originate in that portion of the brain. Temporal lobectomies may be recommended when patients have failed more than two different anti-epileptic drugs.
Chris Kalhorn, M.D., of Medstar Georgetown University Hospital says people are reluctant to undergo a brain surgery and this leads to long delays in patients seeking proper treatment.
Dr. Kalhorn says, "A lot of our patients looked at that, and they said 'well that's brain surgery, it must be very risky', and that explains, I think in part why there's an average delay for our patients of about 22 years before they are referred on to a center like ours, where they could be evaluated for epilepsy surgery."
Patients feared the risks were not worth getting the surgery. But a recent study, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, dispels that notion.
"The study showed, very elegantly, that of the 23 people who were just taking medication alone, all 23 of those patients were still having seizures," Kalhorn said.
Within the temporal lobectomy group, 11 of the 15 patients were seizure free, according to the study.
"The temporal lobectomy is very safe, with high resolution MRI imaging," Kalhorn said. "The risk profile is very comparable to many commonly performed procedures."
Beittel had his operation in 2005 and he has been seizure free ever since. For the first time in his life, doesn't have to worry about his uncontrolled epilepsy.
"Life has been full," he said.