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Black Forest teen becomes first pediatric patient in Colorado to receive life-changing implant

RNS device
A scan of Braeden McDonald's skull, including a view of the RNS device.

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. -- It took 16 years, dozens of failed medications, and a lifetime worth of patience but, finally, Braeden McDonald has some peace of mind.

"There's lots of things I haven't been able to do because of my seizures," said the Black Forest resident, now 18-years-old.

"I used to have 10 to 15 a day," he said. "But the RNS has helped me."

RNS stands for "Responsive Neuro-Stimulator."

Braeden was born with epilepsy. After spending nearly his entire life suffering from hundreds of seizures per day, if you count the dozens occurring during sleep, the RNS implanted in his brain has finally given him a chance to live a relatively normal life.

It was just over two years ago when Braeden's family opted in on the trial run for RNS. While available to adults, RNS was in its infancy in pediatrics. Braeden would be the first "child" in Colorado to get the implant.

"How, as an adult, is he going to function independently?" asked Julie McDonald, Braeden's mother. "How can we get him to that place where he is better able to have those opportunities other people have?"

The answer? Hopefully it's RNS.

The RNS device sits on Braeden's brain. Before a seizure can strike, it sends a pulse through his brain stopping it. It's sort of like a pace-maker for the brain. It also means Braeden is only suffering a small fraction of the seizures he used to have.

To Julie, it’s like something out of a Sci-Fi movie.

"It's given him a little more freedom to choose where he wants to go, what he wants to do," she said. "His seizures have been cut by 50 to 75 percent."

Dr. Kevin Chapman is Braeden’s pediatric neurologist from Colorado Children’s Hospital. He believes it will help countless children significantly cut down on seizures.

"I definitely feel like this RNS device will be part of the future," he said. "All we're doing is just putting electrodes on or in the brain. We don't actually cause any weakness."

Dr. Chapman likes the fact the procedure doesn't involve removing brain tissue.

"I think for Braeden, the nice thing is, we didn't have to affect his learning. We didn't have to affect his motor function. He can go on to have a great life, a full life, go to college, get whatever job he wants," said Chapman.

All Braeden has to do is hold a wand up to his head, once or twice a week, and all the information from his RNS is wirelessly uploaded to a remote server where doctors and engineers look at the data.

"What the device actually does, is it has electrodes directly in or on the brain recording all of the time. And then when a patient has a seizure, it quickly identifies that seizure and stimulates the brain underneath so it can't spread or get bigger," Chapman explained. "I think it's a great option for a lot of patients, especially those patients who have seizures coming from multiple areas."

Because of the RNS, Braeden will now be able to attend college out of state this fall. He'll be a freshman majoring in bio-medical engineering at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

"He could very easily blame his diagnosis and say, 'I can't do it, it's too hard,'" said his mom, Julie. "He has never once said that. He will sit here and spend the extra time on his homework, and I think that is something that I really love about Braeden. And what a hard worker he is and how he perseveres even though it's difficult for him."

Children’s Hospital Colorado now has four kids with RNS. There are only roughly 130 children in the country who have it. Doctors are hoping the age restriction on the device is removed soon.

As for Braeden, his battery will need to be replaced every seven to 10 years, but his prognosis looks great.

Article Topic Follows: Colorado Springs

Josh Helmuth

Josh is an anchor for Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Josh here.

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