FORT WORTH, Texas – Kevin Driggars keeps an image of his 14-year-old son Michael’s brain on his cell phone.
It is a reminder of his family’s decadelong struggle with the boy’s uncontrollable seizures and behavior so violent that all the knives in the house had to be locked away.
“We were getting to the point of having to commit him,” Kevin Driggars said. “He was just too dangerous for us and his brothers to be around him.”
Only after doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, removed part of Michael’s brain did the family find peace. With the help of a 3-dimensional model of Michael’s brain, doctors were able to pinpoint exactly where the seizures started.
Nearly a year after surgery to remove about 70 percent of his left temporal lobe, Michael is seizure-free and happy.
“For so long he did not smile, he had no emotion, only anger,” Brandy Driggars said of her son. “Now he has the huge smile on his face and he laughs a lot.”
Dr. Scott Perry, an epileptologist, can’t say for sure if seizures caused Michael’s violent behavior. “They’re certainly intertwined,” he said.
But he knows that without surgery, Michael’s condition would have deteriorated, affecting both his memory and ability to communicate. The seizures could have also spread to the other side of his brain, causing further damage.
“Michael was already having a hard time speaking,” Perry said. “The tissue that was causing the seizures wasn’t helping him much at all.”
It started with a twitch in his eye and a clicking noise in his throat.
At first doctors diagnosed the problem as behavioral. But after Brandy Driggars videotaped her son having a seizure, Michael was diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed medication.
Things went downhill from there.
At 4, he jumped off a dresser holding knives, most likely a reaction to the medication. At 8, he assaulted his mother. Over the years he was in and out of mental hospitals. At one point he asked to be crucified. He talked about suicide.
Despite his parents’ efforts to protect him, Michael would break windows and run away every night into the countryside of Navarro County. At 12, he burned down an abandoned house.
“When I got close to him, I could smell gasoline all over his clothes,” Brandy Driggers said.
There was no disciplining him, said Kevin Driggars, a firefighter and paramedic.
“We were just so tired,” he said. “We were at our wit’s end.”
At Cook Children’s, the Driggars were told that surgery was Michael’s best shot at a cure.
Michael was having a couple of small seizures daily and grand mal seizures twice a month. That was too many, they were told.
“We didn’t have any other choice,” Kevin Driggars said. Until recently, pinpointing the exact area of the brain triggering seizures was challenging and risky. In Michael’s case, removing the wrong area could leave him unable to understand spoken language.
But by constructing a 3-D model – new technology using MRIs, CT scans and other imaging tools – doctors can see the brain from any angle and focus on the area causing the problem, said Joe Paugh, a software bio-engineer at Cook Children’s.
“The goal is to get exactly what you want,” he said. “No more and no less.”
Michael turned out to be an ideal candidate for the surgery. His parents noticed the change immediately.
The boy who had barely smiled since he was 4, was happy again.
“He’s normal now,” Kevin Driggars said.