Amanda Momberg of Cedarburg, Wis., was 8 years old when she fell to the kitchen floor and experienced her first epileptic seizure.
"I would shake on one side and I couldn't talk," she said. "But I would hear people talking to me."
For most of her life, she took medication to control the seizures. But in December 2008, at age 16, the medications stopped working. Amanda suddenly started having 60 to 100 seizures a day.
"It was awful," said Amanda's mother, Kathy Momberg. "I was not in control; you couldn't do anything about it."
Doctors hoped surgery would help, but the surgeons' first attempt to remove the part of her brain causing the seizures was not successful.
"That's when the topic of MEG scan came up," said Kathy Momberg.
Magnetoencophalography, or MEG, is an imaging technique used by doctors to detect changes in the brain. But unlike other imaging tests, the MEG scanner tracks changes in the brain instantaneously.
Because of Amanda's nearly continuous seizures, Dr. Manoj Raghavan, a neurologist at Froedtert & Medical College in Milwaukee., suggested using MEG to see if there were more parts of Amanda's brain tissue involved in the seizures they could remove without affecting vital parts of her brain.
The MEG scanner can detect changes in brain waves that occur on the order of milliseconds, as opposed to a second or more with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). And for a select few patients like Amanda, those extra milliseconds can mean the difference between life and death.
When Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin received the MEG scanner, Amanda became their first patient.
The MEG scans showed that Amanda's seizures originated in an unusually deep fold in the brain that looked normal on previous brain scans.
"[MEG] identified a target which was right in front of her motor areas, which we could potentially go back and take out," Raghavan said.
Since her surgery in March 2009, Amanda has not experienced a single seizure. In fact, she graduated high school and is now looking forward to a career as a preschool teacher.
"School was always questionable for me when I was younger, about college," she said. "But now I just feel so much more confident in school."
Even Kathy Momberg, who once seemed uncertain about her daughter's progress, said Amanda's confidence and abilities are no longer stifled by her seizures.
"I feel like every door is open to her," said Momberg. "I think the sky's the limit."
The scans are not for every patient. But for some, MEG scans can lead to more precise surgery. Without knowing what parts of the brain tissue to leave intact, Raghavan said, further surgery may have left Amanda paralyzed.
For women with epilepsy, the balance of certain hormones in their body affects the frequency of their seizures. Many women who suffer from epilepsy, like Amanda did, experience more frequent seizures when they begin menstruation. These seizures may affect their fertility, menstrual cycles, menopause and bone health.
While a majority of people with epilepsy control their condition through medication, others need surgery to remove parts of the brain tissue damaged by the disease.