Eight years ago, Dolores Bolden was living in Alabama and working at a nursing home when she contracted bacteria meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, which can result in brain damage and even death.
“It started with a pain in my right arm,” the 55-year-old Gurnee resident said. “I went to the emergency room and they gave me Motrin. They said it was nothing but arthritis.”
When she couldn’t move to put on her shoe, Bolden returned to the emergency room and was told the same thing.
Still feeling poorly, she decided to spend the night at her parents’ home. She awoke in a hospital after being in a coma for a week.
After her bout with meningitis, Bolden began suffering life-altering seizures, five or more a day.
“The doctors weren’t sure what was causing it,” said Bolden, who moved to Illinois to be closer to her children and to seek better medical care.
Because of her seizures, Bolden couldn’t drive, travel alone, cook or even take a bath without being monitored.
“I would blank out and fall down and couldn’t remember what had happened,” she said. “I was very depressed because I was very active in my church and always did things for myself. It’s a terrible thing when your life is turned completely around.”
Finding the cause
Bolden’s family doctor referred her to Dr. Sofia Dobrin, an epileptologist (a subspecialty of neurology) at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
“It’s more common than not that we don’t actually find a cause for the seizures,” Dobrin said. “We call it idiopathic [defined as arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause].”
Two-thirds of patients who have a seizure disorder do well with medication, while one-third continue to have seizures, Dobrin said.
“Those are the people we need to look closer at and do more testing,” she said. “That’s what we did with Dolores and, fortunately, it led to a good outcome for her. It’s a remarkable story.”
After having a seizure on the table during a CT scan, Bolden was admitted to Evanston Hospital’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit or EMU, so doctors could record her seizures and hopefully determine a cause.
Dr. Julian Bailes, who is director of the department of neurosurgery and co-director of NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Neurological Institute, said a seizure is like an orchestra playing and one instrument starts playing out of tune, which leads more instruments to do the same.
“That’s what happens with a seizure. One group of brain cells begins to malfunction and their electrical signals influence the neighboring brain cells and it spreads throughout the brain,” said the renowned neurosurgeon, who was portrayed by actor Alec Baldwin in the movie “Concussion.”
While in the EMU, doctors discovered Bolden’s seizures were coming from the right temporal lobe and were the result of scar tissue from the bacterial meningitis.
“All the damage was on her right side, where her seizures were coming from,” Dobrin said. “She was an excellent candidate for surgery.”
Bolden underwent brain surgery in February and is now seizure-free.
“I am wonderful,” Bolden said. “I started going back to church by myself. I even went on a few dates and will be going on a cruise.”
Although Bolden suffered seizures for years, she encourages others in the same position to keep seeking a solution no matter how long it takes.
“Find a doctor you trust and have faith in the Lord,” she said. “If you trust your doctor, he’s not going to lead you wrong. I was so blessed to have those doctors in my life. They listened to me.”
Because neurology is such a huge field, Dobrin said it’s important to seek out a specialist. Surgery can be an option for seizure sufferers even if previous brain scans did not show anything, she said.
“It’s life-changing for many people. No one should lose hope even if they’ve been on medication for years,” she said.