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2011 Health Care Heroes: Vicenta Salanova

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Health Care HeroesFINALIST: Advancements in Health Care

Vicenta Salanova, MD, FAAN

Professor of Neurology, Indiana University School of Medicine; Director Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, Indiana University Hospital

 

salanova-vicenta (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Epilepsy, a disorder that causes incapacitating seizures, affects three million Americans. Sixty percent of them respond to medication. “Those are the lucky ones,” said Vicenta Salanova, M.D., director of the Indiana University Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.

For the remaining 40 percent, the disease imposes limitations that severely impact the quality of their lives. They aren’t allowed to drive or swim and may not be able to work. They are prone to accidents, such as falling or drowning. They typically have significant psycho-social problems, and 30 percent experience depression. They are also at risk for SUDEP—sudden unexplained death in epilepsy.

Some patients in this group, the ones for which only one area of the brain contributes to the seizures, are candidates for surgery. For the rest, clinical trials represent their only hope.

These are the patients that come to Salanova, 66, the principal investigator for epilepsy clinical trials at IU Health’s University Hospital. A native of Spain, Salanova came to the U.S. in 1972 for her neurology training and joined the staff at IU in 1991.

Under Salanova’s leadership the center, the only Level 4 epilepsy center in Indiana, participated in the multi-center SANTE Clinical Trial, which showed that electrical stimulation of the thalamus gland was effective. It is awaiting FDA approval.

The groundbreaking NeuroPace RNS System Clinical Trial was also found to reduce the frequency of seizures and has been submitted for FDA approval. A recording device implanted in the patient’s scalp detects the onset of a seizure and sends a mild electrical stimulation to suppress it. The treatment is significant because it can be used in patients with multiple areas of the brain involved in the seizures.

“This is the first time this has ever been done,” Salanova said. “I can see the seizures and the electrical activity of the brain and program the stimulator specifically for the patient so he can suppress the beginning of the seizure before it spreads to the rest of the brain—before he feels anything. We are really excited about both these trials.”

The center is gearing up for participation in the international ROSE trial, which will compare standard open-skull surgery to the less-invasive Gamma Knife radiosurgery, an outpatient procedure. The center conducted the pilot study for this trial years ago.

“We hope that we can show that radiosurgery is another option, Salanova said. “We will follow patients for several years to see not only if radiosurgery is efficacious, but how it affects verbal memory over time and the psycho-social aspects.”

Salanova won’t stop until those questions are answered. In the end, it all comes back to the patients. “We do this research so we can help more patients and improve their quality of life” she said.

“Dr. Salanova has many heroic qualities, but among them I would specifically mention that she is hands-down the most dedicated physician I know,” said Robert Worth, M.D., a neurosurgeon who works closely with Dr. Salanova. “For example, during the recent ice storm she stayed several nights in a downtown hotel so that she would not take a chance on being unable to attend to a patient who was in the hospital for a critical monitoring procedure.”•

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  1. Socialized medicine works great for white people in Scandanavia. It works well in Costa Rica for a population that is partly white and partly mestizo. I don't really see Obamacare as something aimed against whites. I think that is a Republican canard designed to elicit support from white people for republican candidates who don't care about them any more than democrats care about the non-whites they pander to with their phony maneuvers. But what is different between Costa Rica nd the Scandanavian nations on one hand and the US on the other? SIZE. Maybe the US is just too damn big. Maybe it just needs to be divided into smaller self governing pieces like when the old Holy Roman Empire was dismantled. Maybe we are always trying the same set of solutions for different kinds of people as if we were all the same. Oh-- I know-- that is liberal dogma, that we are all the same. Which is the most idiotic American notion going right back to the propaganda of 1776. All men are different and their differences are myriad and that which is different is not equal. The state which pretends men are all the same is going to force men to be the same. That is what America does here, that is what we do in our stupid overseas wars, that is how we destroy true diversity and true difference, and we are all as different groups of folks, feeling the pains of how capitalism is grinding us down into equally insignificant proletarian microconsumers with no other identity whether we like it or not. And the Marxists had this much right about the War of Independence: it was fundamentally a war of capitalist against feudal systems. America has been about big money since day one and whatever gets in the way is crushed. Health care is just another market and Obamacare, to the extent that it Rationalizes and makes more uniform a market which should actually be really different in nature and delivery from place to place-- well that will serve the interests of the biggest capitalist stakeholders in health care which is not Walmart for Gosh Sakes it is the INSURANCE INDUSTRY. CUI BONO Obamacare? The insurance industry. So republicans drop the delusion pro capitalist scales from your eyes this has almost nothing to do with race or "socialism" it has to do mostly with what the INSURANCE INDUSTRY wants to have happen in order to make their lives and profits easier.

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  4. JK - I meant that the results don't ring true. I also questioned the 10-year-old study because so much in the "health care system" has changed since the study was made. Moreover, it was hard to get to any overall conclusion or observation with the article. But....don't be defensive given my comments; I still think you do the best job of any journalist in the area shedding light and insight on important health care issues.

  5. Probably a good idea he doesn't run. I for one do not want someone who lives in VIRGINIA to be the governor. He gave it some thought, but he likes Virginia too much. What a name I cannot say on this site! The way these people think and operate amuses me.

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