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Crozer Health Opens Comprehensive Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at DCMH


By Mary Wascavage


Martina Vendrame, M.D.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder. Only migraine, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease are more prevalent among Americans.

Epileptic seizures are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. Symptoms can happen either just prior to or during a seizure and can last from several seconds to several minutes. The most common include falling as well as jerking bodily movements.

Epilepsy has been studied for millennia. In fact, a 2005 report from the World Health Organization documents the first observation of an epileptic seizure in ancient Babylonia, in 1000 B.C.

Modern medicine has taught us a great deal about the condition; however, the methods used to identify and treat epilepsy are not consistent.

This is where Crozer Health ’s newest service, the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) at Delaware County Memorial Hospital (DCMH), stands out among programs offered at most local hospitals and health systems.

In January 2018, Crozer Health opened the EMU – two private, seizure-safe rooms located on the 3rd floor of the hospital. It offers targeted, specialized therapy to patients suffering from epilepsy – both newly diagnosed and those requiring change-in-status monitoring. The unit’s medical director, Crozer Health neurologist Martina Vendrame, M.D., Ph.D., says that continuous patient monitoring makes all the difference.

“The purpose of an epilepsy monitoring unit is to determine what type of seizures patients are having, to diagnose epilepsy, or to adjust medications to determine best treatment,” Vendrame says. “We are basically allowing the seizures to happen in a controlled environment. We can then investigate and, as a result, perform medical management to fully control the patient’s seizures.”

Vendrame notes that before the introduction of the DCMH EMU, patients would have a series of outpatient electroencephalography (EEG) tests to identify the type of seizures and confirm an epilepsy diagnosis. While this information helps the physician determine which medications to prescribe, the process can be time-consuming, inconvenient and costly for the patient.

However, an inpatient epilepsy monitoring unit is considered the gold standard of care. “It is a more comprehensive way to evaluate the seizure disorder and provides more information,” Vendrame says. “We collect information 24 hours a day on all activity – when the patient is awake, asleep and active. It’s the most information we can get for patients with seizures."

Patients are video-monitored around the clock and are cared for by a specially trained clinical team of doctors, nurses and technologists. Continuous EEG testing monitors brain activity and provides valuable clues that assist in identification and treatment of a seizure disorder. Patients usually stay on the unit for two or three days, depending on the physician’s recommendation.

Crozer Health ’s EMU is the only inpatient-based, 24-hour monitored program in Delaware and Chester counties, and one of three in the Greater Philadelphia area. The beautifully appointed, private patient rooms are located on a monitored unit staffed by nurses who are specially trained to care for neurological patients as well as on seizure awareness and analysis. Adult patients ages 18 years or older must be referred into the program by a physician.

“After the patient’s stay in the EMU, we will have answers,” Vendrame says. “We’ll then follow up on next steps, usually medication, but the plan could also include surgery or psychotherapy.”

Additional stays on the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit may be needed throughout the patient’s life to adjust or change medications. The goal is to provide the right treatment at the right time to keep the patient seizure-free.

For more information on the Crozer Health Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at DCMH, visit www.crozerkeystone.org or call 610-394-4733.

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