STAY STRONG: Erin McDonald’s Story

Erin McDonald

Erin McDonald is sitting on the bus and suddenly she feels a pit growing in her stomach. She senses it slowly moving up, sending waves throughout her body. Her mind starts racing, everything feels like it’s moving a thousand miles per second—

Then, it all fades to black.

When she regains consciousness, she is standing in the middle of a road—uncertain how much time has passed or how she got there.  

Erin started having seizures at six years old, leading to a diagnosis of epilepsy. Eventually, she reached a point where conventional treatments proved ineffective. Desperate for solutions, her doctor in Hamilton referred her to London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).  

She was brought to the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) at University Hospital, for a multi-disciplinary assessment of her epilepsy. While the team noticed abnormal activity on the electroencephalogram (EEG), detecting her seizures proved challenging as they originated deep within her brain. To overcome this challenge, they opted for the insertion of depth electrodes, allowing the EMU to confirm the previous activity observed was seizure spikes.  

The team also determined her disease was related to scar tissue in her brain, caused by a meningitis infection she had at 10 months old. Erin underwent surgery to remove the affected tissue from the right side of her brain, including part of her right temporal lobe.  


Six months after surgery, she lost consciousness due to a seizure, prompting a return to the EMU.  

“Once they hook you up to the machines, you’re almost guaranteed to not have a seizure,” Erin laughs. “It’s Murphy’s law.”  

Her Epileptologist, Dr. Ana Suller-Marti, kept Erin awake for several nights to induce a seizure. Erin became adept at identifying her triggers and she foresaw a seizure would strike once she fell into a deep sleep. Erin also developed a keen sensitivity to the warning signs of an oncoming seizure, recognizing a specific feeling in her stomach. She acknowledges how there are many misconceptions about epilepsy.

“When people think of a seizure, they often think of someone falling and convulsing,” Erin describes. “But for me, I blackout and I could do some weird stuff.”

To regain control over the disorder, Erin was offered the Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) Therapy. Her VNS sends pulses to the vagus nerve every three minutes. She can request a stronger stimulation if she anticipates an impending seizure. The team can monitor Erin’s activity with VNS, and she reports a significant reduction in post-seizure mental fatigue.

Even with VNS, Erin's life continued to be disrupted by epilepsy, leading Dr. Suller-Marti to recommend Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) implantation. This technique involved placing electrodes to provide stimulation to the brain, reducing the chances of seizure occurrences.  

Erin’s results were transformative. With this procedure—along with the device and the adjustments made by her medical team—the frequency and severity of her seizures were greatly reduced.

“Before DBS, I was averaging between eight and 20 seizures a month. Today, I am down to two or three visible ones—and these are mostly occurring in my sleep,” Erin shares.

Erin wants her story to encourage others to trust their intuition and advocate for themselves. She continues giving hope to other patients through the impressive diamond art she donated to the EMU. In the hallway, a plaque sits adjacent to one of her pieces and delivers a simple yet powerful message: "STAY STRONG."



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