Reagan’s Story: Epilepsy & the Medical Ketogenic Diet

Reagan eating her medical ketogenic meal at a restaurant

First Seizure

It is a day I won’t soon forget.  March 2013, Reagan and I took a girls’ road trip to Connecticut for my cousin’s baby shower.  Reagan seemed off, and I attributed it to traveling and not being in her own space.  She was restless and found it hard to sleep in a different crib.  I scooped her up and had her lay with me. I awoke to her making odd sounds, drooling and grey, her body seemed limp, and she was unresponsive.  An ambulance arrived soon after, and we were taken to a local hospital to hear the words no parent wants to hear: “Your child had a seizure”.  Here I was in a city several hours from home, with my 16-month-old child, without my husband, terrified of what had just happened.  Thankfully all of my family was in town for the baby shower, and my mom, aunt, and sisters sat with me while I ran through Reagan’s already extensive medical history with the pediatric neurologist. Was she born full term? No, she was considered a late preterm baby.  Was she meeting her milestones? No, she had fine and gross motor delays, as well as speech delays.  Is she followed by a neurologist? Yes, and recently had an MRI, which didn’t show anything abnormal.  

Epilepsy Diagnosis

Yet, here we were. Reagan had experienced her first of many seizures.  Reagan was transported by ambulance from the hospital in Connecticut to our hometown children’s hospital.   We were later discharged with emergency medication and instructions for what to do if another seizure were to happen.  The nights and weeks following I slept on Reagan’s floor next to her crib, terrified of another seizure. Four months later, another seizure followed, as well as another ambulance ride and hospital stay. Two months later, after a move to Pennsylvania, yet another. Then came the diagnoses: epilepsy, as well as cerebral palsy.  It was a shock to the system. What did this mean for my nearly two-year-old? How would we manage this? Would she have a full life?

Antiepileptic Medications

Reagan started a medication, and any parent knows giving a medication to your young child can be like pulling teeth.  But we soon learned the tricks of the trade, making sure she was getting the doses when needed.  The first few months came with sleepless nights, feeling on edge and always wondering when the next seizure would come.  And they came, almost like clockwork every four months.  That “honeymoon period” of a seizure every four months lasted about a year and a half.  Then the seizures started to pop up more frequently, when Reagan was sick, when she was tired, and when she was overheated.  A second medication was added onto the first, and we achieved eight months of seizure freedom.  With our neurologist, we started to wean Reagan from the initial medication.  Unfortunately, that put us into a downward spiral of seizures and medication side effects. A new medication was introduced, and seizures came every two weeks.  A new medication came shortly after, and it slowly helped to space the seizures out. After months of the medication being just okay, the neurologist suggested adding in another medication.  With that came side effects that included extreme fatigue and loss of cognition.  My little girl was hiding in plain sight, in a heavily medicated fog.  For several months we worked through finding the right dose and finally it came.  The combination of those two medications has bought us three solid months of seizure freedom, but the side effects were still there.  And while some would consider that success, we didn’t.  For us, success was being both seizure-free AND side effect free. 

Enter the Medical Ketogenic diet

 At the end of 2018, at a routine neurologist appointment, my husband and I expressed our concerns about the side effects these medications were having on Reagan.  She gave us three options: the medical ketogenic diet, VNS, or brain surgery.  We weren’t ready for surgery just yet and given that I had some knowledge of the medical ketogenic diet and its success rate with children living with epilepsy, we knew that would be our next step. The months leading up to Reagan’s inpatient stay to begin the medical ketogenic diet, we prepared Reagan for her new lifestyle.  We explained to her this special diet could help make her feel better. We also went over the list of her approved foods and involved her in the appointments with the dietitian.  By the time we entered the hospital, she was ready, even though both my husband and I were anxious. During the five-day-stay, Reagan acclimated well to her new diet and enjoyed visiting the hospital’s Kids’ Club House, watching movies and making friends with the nurses.  She even got to visit the kitchen with the dietitian to make KetoCal® pancakes and a smoothie.

Reagan preparing a KetoCal pancake recipe

Reagan Today

Today, Reagan has been on the medical ketogenic diet for almost five months.  She loves the food, knows her schedule and knows that she must complete each meal. She’s always been a little foodie and often asks me to contact the dietitian for new and exciting snacks and meals.  The first month was hard on our family. The constant weighing and measuring were time-consuming and a little emotional.  But now we are in a groove, even eating out at restaurants and managing holidays. Reagan maintains good seizure control, and we’ve seen so many additional positive changes.  A little bit of that medicated fog has lifted already, she has increased attention to tasks, and those skills she seemed to have lost are coming back. The best part? We just received the go-ahead from Reagan’s neurologist to wean her from one of the medications! Since this was our main motivation for trying the medical ketogenic diet, we are thrilled!

Thinking back to that Mom who was scared and wondered what this would mean for her then two-year-old, I would tell her that epilepsy is a part of Reagan, but it does not define her. I would tell her that you will manage this head-on and become a better, stronger person and an advocate not only for Reagan but for all kids living with epilepsy.  Does Reagan have a full life? Absolutely!  Does her life look different than the neurotypical child? Yes, but Reagan has faced each and every one of these challenges from MRIs, to frequent doctor and therapist appointments, to medication changes to the medical ketogenic diet, head-on with a smile on her face. And when asked about her life, her response is “it’s fun!”

Erin Monast lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband Travis, their daughter Reagan and dog Tag.  She writes the blog, This Is Epilepsy and is inspired every day by the strength and perseverance of Reagan.

I was paid by Nutricia for my time to write this blog post, however, my opinions are my own.

KetoCal is a medical food for the dietary management of intractable epilepsy and is intended for use under medical supervision.

To learn more about the medical ketogenic diet for the management of intractable epilepsy, visit www.ketogenicdietforepilepsy.com.

ketogenic-diet-for-epilepsy

Tomas’ Epilepsy & Medical Ketogenic Diet Journey

The Ketolicious Kid, Epilepsy Warrior (aka: Tomas, the baseball player)

ketogenic-diet-for-epilepsy

Tomas is 4 ½ years old. He loves everything baseball, outdoors and his family. He says he’s going to be a baseball player when he grows up and that we’re all going to see him on TV one day. He is my 3rd child, the sweetest of all my kids, the baby of the family and the one that was supposed to be on auto-pilot. Tomas was the best baby. He got dragged around everywhere that his older siblings had to go: school events, soccer practices, gymnastics competitions, etc. He was a typical baby and toddler, and everything was perfect, or so it seemed. I’m not sure when, but I started feeling that there was something off about him, something different than my other kids. I didn’t know how to describe it and people told me I was crazy. So, I tried to shake the feeling, and convinced myself everything was ok. Until …. April of 2018.

Epilepsy Diagnosis

We were at my parents’ house celebrating my sister’s engagement. Her fiancé was about to give a toast when, THUD, Tomas collapsed. He was having a seizure, a BIG one. It lasted about 3 ½ minutes but it felt like an eternity. What came after was worse than the seizure itself. He was lethargic and confused, talking but not making sense and then fell into a deep sleep. I watched him all night. The next day he woke up as if nothing had happened – talking, playing, asking for breakfast. I was so relieved, but it was short lived. As I set his breakfast down, he had another seizure. I rushed him to the hospital where he was admitted. There he underwent a series of tests (VEEGs, MRIs, blood work), and we were acquainted with all the -ologist and -icsts the hospital had to offer. We were told that he had epilepsy. The VEEG showed he was having 3 types of seizures (I didn’t even know there were 3 different types of seizures). It was happening all the time and we didn’t even notice. They threw out a few terms for possible diagnoses, said further testing was necessary, put him on anti-epileptic medications and sent us home with instructions to follow up in a week or two.

Intractable Epilepsy

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The next four months were a blur of increasing seizures, neurologist appointments, VEEGs, and changing and adjusting medications with little to no improvement in seizure control. All the testing came back negative and there was no explanation for his seizures other than “intractable” or “refractory” epilepsy (meaning not responding to medications). We were losing our little boy; he was in a fog of medications and seizures. This was when doctors suggested the medical ketogenic diet as a way to help manage his seizures. They told us that it would involve an initial hospitalization of 1 week and then a strict diet, in which I would have to measure food to the tenth of a gram (0.01 g) for the foreseeable future. I was skeptical. I felt there was NO way that I’d be able to feed my child in this way, especially working full-time and with the crazy hectic life we lived. But I was also desperate and willing to try anything.

The Medical Ketogenic Diet

We started the ketogenic diet in the hospital on August 20th. We had a rough start; Tomas did not tolerate the diet well at first. Thankfully we were working with an amazing team of neurologist and dietitians through the hospital’s Keto Clinic that knew just what to do. Instead of starting at our goal ketogenic ratio, we started the diet gradually. We began with the Modified Atkins Diet and worked our way up to the goal ketogenic ratio slowly, allowing Tomas’ body time to adapt. It took several months, from August to December, to work up to where he needed to be. Those months were difficult. Every few weeks we were changing ratios and adapting meals, tracking his weight and monitoring seizures. I wanted to quit on many occasions, but what kept me going was the small changes I started to notice in Tomas. Although he was still having seizures, the fog seemed to be lifting. I’d get glimpses of who Tomas used to be. This was the trend: small improvements and fewer daily seizures, until January 27th when my husband and I realized that we hadn’t recorded a seizure since December 22nd!!! Fast forward to February 14th – Tomas had his first “normal” 24-hour VEEG since his epilepsy diagnosis.

Tomas Today

Tomas is currently on a 4:1 ratio ketogenic diet and has been seizure-free for 3 months. I am so amazed with how the ketogenic diet has changed our lives. I meal prep weekly for the family and plan out Tomas’ daily meals in advance. I own multiple gram scales and more silicon molds and spatulas than I can count, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve learned to cook/make things I never thought I could, such as keto bagels, pizza, and even blueberry muffins (thanks to KetoCal®). We are lucky to have resources out there like KetoCal that make a restrictive diet feel not so restrictive and make it easier to be a mom to a Keto Kid. We juggle soccer, baseball and gymnastics, eat out, and travel. I didn’t think we would be able to do these things with such a restrictive diet, but I have found that it just takes a little prep work and creativity. Yes, there are still hard days with managing the diet, but the benefits outweigh the challenges. I never thought that our quality-of-life would improve the way that it has. I’ve met amazing people on similar journeys to ours and had opportunities to help others (like writing this blog post).

Advice for Others Struggling with Intractable Epilepsy

My advice for anyone out there suffering from seizures is to give the ketogenic diet a chance. Ask your medical team if its right for you and your family. Be patient and take it one gram at a time, one meal at a time, and one day at a time. Find support and don’t go at it alone because you are NOT alone. There is a huge keto family out there eager and willing to provide advice and support, you just must know where to look. And if you’re reading this now, you are already on the right path. Who knows in what ways the ketogenic diet might improve your life. Good Luck!
Below are some links to some helpful sites and groups:

– Lourdes

I was paid by Nutricia for my time to write this blog post, however, my opinions are my own.
KetoCal is a medical food and is intended for use under medical supervision.

To learn more about the medical ketogenic diet for the management of intractable epilepsy, visit www.ketogenicdietforepilepsy.com.

Silas & Kane’s Glut1DS & Ketogenic Diet Journey

My twin 18-month-old boys, Silas & Kane, just love music and new experiences. We just celebrated our 2nd Christmas! I love watching them light up seeing all the joy around us at this time of year. It brings us so much peace.

First Seizure Experience & a Misdiagnosis

When the boys were just 4 months old, Kane had his first seizure. I was so frightened as I was a new mom. I didn’t know what was happening. We all rushed to our local children’s hospital. While we were there, Silas started having “Aberrant Gaze Saccades”, also known as “Intermittent Involuntary Gaze (IIG)”, which looked like his eyes were crossed. He couldn’t shake out of it and would become very distressed. Lots of tests were being done on the boys and we spent days in the hospital.

One day, a few doctors came into our room and asked my husband and I, “how do you want us to tell you this information?”. My heart instantly broke and I felt a huge lump in my throat as I answered “just tell me straight up.” They told us that my twins had a rare condition called Leukodystrophy. They explained that there was no cure and that they would not live see their 5th birthday. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. I told myself that if there was any way on this earth I could get a miracle of a misdiagnosis, I would do everything in my power to make sure my boys have the best life possible.

Days later, we were so relieved to learn that the boys had in fact been misdiagnosed initially. After more agonizing days in the hospital and lots of blood tests, EEG’s, spinal taps & everything else, we got the REAL Diagnosis: Glut1 Deficiency Syndrome.

Glut1 Deficiency Syndrome & The Ketogenic Diet

Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome or Glut1 Deficiency Syndrome is a rare genetic condition that impairs the brain metabolism. Glucose cannot be properly transported into the brain, essentially starving it from the energy it needs to function and thrive. Common signs and symptoms can include seizures, movement disorders, speech and language disorders, and developmental delays. There is no cure and they will live with this condition for the rest of their lives. However, I was exploding with joy when learning that my sons had Glut1 Deficiency Syndrome! You’re all thinking I’m crazy, I know, but I could not stop crying happy tears, as in my eyes, my boys were given a second chance at life compared to the initial diagnosis we were given. I wasted no time in trying to educate myself as much as I possibly could about this condition.

My boys were put on an antiepileptic medication and we were sent home. I was noticing that my boys were not improving. They were still having multiple Aberrant Gaze Saccades a day and they were not meeting their milestones. At our next doctor’s appointment, I expressed my frustration with how the medications were not working and I mentioned that through my research, I read that the ketogenic diet was very successful in managing seizures in children with Glut1 Deficiency Syndrome. They were hesitant as a lot of parents claim that the ketogenic diet is too hard to keep up with. I told them that I need to own up to my promise that I made to myself, that I was going to do everything possible for my boys with this new chance at life. They saw how motivated I was, and they were happy to let me begin.

At first, I was very overwhelmed as I had 2 babies who required this diet. I thought “Can I ACTUALLY do this?”  I was worried that maybe I was a little in over my head. We started the diet at home with the help of a dietitian who helped start the boys out on a ketogenic formula recipe. We slowly worked our way up to the 4:1 ketogenic ratio. Within the first few days, I instantly saw an increase in energy. They were starting to smile, laugh, and hold their head up on their own! I was so overjoyed with how well the diet was working! We weaned off the antiepileptic medication with success! The hard work was totally paying off.

We recently passed our 1-year milestone since they started the diet on December 21st, 2017. The boys have not had a seizure since the day they started the ketogenic diet! I know that there will be challenges as they get older and we may have hiccups along the way, but I am hopeful that the ketogenic diet will keep the seizures suppressed for the most part.

Now that the boys are toddlers exploring new foods, KetoCal® formula makes it SO easy to make really yummy recipes. My boys love cream cheese pancakes that I make with the Ketocal 4:1 LQ Vanilla (recipe below). We have a very busy lifestyle with lots of child therapy & hospital appointments. I just make a big batch of pancakes and bring them on the go! I remember a time when I felt so overwhelmed and I couldn’t think of any ideas of easy meals to make for the boys, so I sent Nutricia a message on Facebook and they sent me TONS of super easy, awesome recipes! I felt like I won the lottery! The boys also love when I use the formula to make smoothies.

The Boys’ Life Today

The boys were off to a rough start the first few months of their lives, which has caused some delays for them. At 18 months old, they still struggle with their balance. They cannot stand on their own or walk. They say “mamma” and “dada”, and they will point to things that they want. The boys are extremely motivated to start walking and they use big boxes to push around the house to help them walk. They attend water therapy, music therapy & physical therapy.

My husband and I made the decision to start a low carbohydrate lifestyle ourselves as we wanted our home to be a place where they don’t feel different or left out. We know that this is something that will be life long, so we want to make this as easy as possible for them. We want them to grow up seeing mom and dad eating the same food as them and to see that eating healthy is a good thing! As they get older, I want them to be able to open the refrigerator or cupboards without having to see food they “can’t have”. It has made me so much more passionate about the ketogenic lifestyle & I could not be more grateful for how it has impacted all of our lives!

Advice for Other Parents

My advice to any parent seeking out the ketogenic diet for their child: If medications are not working and your child is still suffering from seizures, then what do you have to lose with trying the ketogenic diet?  Ask your child’s neurologist about whether the ketogenic diet might be helpful. If you do end up starting the ketogenic diet, be patient and don’t give up! It can be difficult with all the fine-tuning, but I can assure you that it’s absolutely worth it!

– Francine

I was paid by Nutricia for my time to write this blog post, however, my opinions are my own.

KetoCal is a medical food intended for individuals age 1 year and up. It is intended for use under medical supervision.

 

 

ketogenic diet pancake recipe

Silas & Kane’s Cream Cheese Pancake Recipe (4:1 ketogenic ratio):

  • 19 g Egg (raw, mixed well)
  • 15 g Cream cheese
  • 15 mL Formula: KetoCal® 4:1 LQ (measure in mL) Nutricia
  • 1 g Butter
  • Berries (optional; needs to be calculated into recipe)

Directions:

  1. Mix eggs, cream cheese, KetoCal® 4:1 LQ and half of the butter into a batter.
  2. Pour into a greased pan on medium heat and cook until brown; flip and repeat.
  3. Use remaining butter as topping.
  4. Optional – Top with berries (be sure to calculate this into the recipe)

You can also view this recipe on MyKetoPlanner here.

Please note, this recipe is for a 4:1 ketogenic ratio. As always, please check with your healthcare provider to ensure that this recipe is appropriate for you or your child. The recipe may need to be adjusted to meet your ketogenic ratio and calorie requirements.