WellSpan neurosurgeon first on East Coast to implant electrical device


A Franklin County boy is experiencing a 60-percent decrease in epileptic seizures since having a small, electrical device implanted under his skin, near his collarbone and in his neck, at WellSpan York Hospital.

York Hospital is the first hospital on the east coast and second in the nation to perform a newly approved procedure to treat epileptic seizures.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the device on June 5. Three days later, WellSpan neurosurgeon Joel Winer implanted the device in 9-year-old Christian Wilhelm of Greencastle.

"The device has given us hope that this could really improve Christian's life," said his mother, Sarah.

More than 3 million people are affected by epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. About 1 million people, however, don't respond to medication, according to Winer.

Christian was experiencing five to 20 seizures a day. Seizures are often unpredictable and can be life-threatening. Some people experience a trance-like state for a few seconds or minutes, while others lose consciousness and suffer convulsions. The family tried at least 10 different medications, but nothing helped.

"As Christian's seizures increased, and his injuries as the result of the seizures increased, we felt we needed to try the implant," said his mother.

Winer said he was able to implant the device so quickly after FDA approval, because he has been implanting the predecessor device for 15 years.

The AspireSR device is able to detect within seconds when a seizure starts to occur, due to a change in heart rate. This change is unlike the type people experience with exercise. It is unique to seizures and seizure activity.

The device prevents or suppresses a seizure by sending bursts of low-dose electricity to the vagus nerve, on the left side of the neck. It would be like knowing to take a Tylenol to prevent a headache before it began, according to Winer.

"The fewer seizures, the less medicine the child needs to take, the less behavioral and educational impact," said Winer. "People like Christian are able to lead a more natural and normal life."

Winer expects to implant about 30 devices this year.