NEWTON, N.J. (AP) - Amy Tognetti said out of all of the gifts that were under her tree this past Christmas, she has received the best - that medical tests have deemed her seizure-free; and that after five years, she may have the opportunity to drive a car again.
Her driver’s license was suspended due to a car accident caused by a seizure in 2015. Tognetti is looking forward to the opportunity to try to get back her license.
Tognetti, 49, who battles epilepsy, has had four brain surgeries, but she credits a combination of two maintenance medications, Keppra and Vimpat, oral anticonvulsants, with keeping her mostly seizure-free from grand mal seizures since 2018, with the exception of one petit mal seizure experienced in her sleep one night in May.
Prior to 2018, Tognetti said, she heavily and regularly battled both grand mal and petit mal seizures, with the latter about 20 seconds in duration.
Tognetti started suffering seizures in 1997, two years after she was married. She said her medical odyssey seemed to start after she was ill one day, fainted and hit her head on a table. That night as she was sleeping, Tognetti said, she suffered a grand mal-type of seizure that was so violent, her body thrashed against her headboard, which in turn smashed the headboard into the wall.
Her husband, Chris, described the seizure as “seeming like a long time but probably only lasted a minute.” Amy Tognetti said she had no awareness that the seizure had occurred.
Most life-changing for Tognetti, was the day in January 2015 when she was driving home from a Bible study near Drake’s Pond in Andover Township and suddenly lost her ability to see and hear. Her last memory before she opened her eyes and saw three men looking at her was turning her steering wheel. They told her that her car spun three times before she crashed into a pole.
Tognetti said she crashed on the road where her primary physician at Skylands Medical Group is located. Rooted strongly in her Christian faith, she believed God was giving her signs through the accident that she was ill. She was grateful that on the normally busy roadway there were no other cars around her at that time; and she had neither her children nor her dogs in the car.
Tognetti’s medical odyssey eventually led her that year to Dr. Mangala Nadkarni, who has an office near Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, where Tognetti was hospitalized for her brain surgeries and for some medical care.
Between 2016 and 2018, Tognetti underwent four brain surgeries and also suffered liver failure from one medication that she turned out to be allergic to. One of her surgeries in 2016 was for a “NeuroPace” device, that her body later rejected. That was a disappointment for Tognetti, as, in spite of her reaction to it, the device reduced her seizures by 70 percent.
The mother of two children, Natalie, 18, and Jordan, 16, Tognetti later learned from one of her doctors that she had developed scar tissue on her brain that complicated her health issues following a bout with high fevers from the Epstein-Barr virus in 2005. The scarring was on her brain’s hippocampus, the section of the brain that controls several functions, including learning.
She credits Nadkarni with saving her life through her persistence in multiple diagnostic tests and discovering the medication formula - Keppra and Vimpat - that agreed with Tognetti and helped her to become seizure-free. Tognetti said Nadkarni, after some monitoring, described her as “very sick” - averaging three seizures daily, in spite of the medication regimen she was then prescribed - as tracked on an electroencephalography or EEG recorder, which monitors brain activity.
In addition to her faith and the help of her medical team, Tognetti said she believes she was healed from her seizures through rest and regular exercise, including rides on her bicycle. She still participates in Bible study and now takes an acrylic painting art class. She hopes her journey with epilepsy can educate and inspire others.
“I’ve had to fight every second and I’ve told my children when you persist, you get somewhere,” said Tognetti.
According to the medical review process on the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s website, the commission’s Medical Advisory Panel reviews medical information and test information from the prospective driver’s personal physician. The medical review, in her case, resulted in a suspension of her license after her accident in 2015; and will now entail a re-examination and hopeful reinstatement of her driving privileges.
Tognetti’s goal is to regain her driver’s license by her 50th birthday, after completion of more neurological tests, plus her written and road tests.
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