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A major step forward

The staff at Pleasant Hill Library knows Cody Witt well. They even gave him a book bag to bring his books home and then back to the library.

The many trips to the library and check-out of more than 30 books at a time are just an inkling of how far the 10-year-old son of Greg and Dianne Witt of Hastings has come in the last three years.

Cody was diagnosed at a young age with a severe case of Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a rare, childhood epileptic disorder characterized by loss of language and abnormal electro-encephalogram (EEG) readings. His parents tried different treatments, including Valium therapy, vitamin diet and brain surgery. The brain surgery option provided short-term hope. But it failed to permanently slow the many seizures Cody was experiencing.

In November of 2003, a small electrical generator was implanted into Cody's chest. The battery-operated device sends tiny electrical shocks through wires attached to the Vagus nerve, which in turn activates certain areas of Cody's brain. The treatment, called Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy, can be effective in epilepsy patients resistant to traditional drug therapy. The stimulants sent from the device tell the brain to calm down, which in turn gives those with epilepsy more self-control.

Almost three years after the implant, Cody is an active 10-year-old. He attends New Visions School in northeast Minneapolis on a full-time basis as a fifth-grader.

"He knows the alphabet and how to spell his name," his father said. "He's talking and learning new words, and he's playing with the kids at school."

Cody has truly progressed after several failed treatments.

The Valium treatment left Cody inebriated for two weeks. When the Valium was discontinued, the seizures continued, often more than 60 a day.

Treatment options

When Cody was being treated at Children's Hospital in St. Paul, the family heard about about VNS therapy. After the doctors initially confirmed Cody was eligible for the treatments, they reversed themselves and recommended a lobotomy.

"They said he was too young, had too many seizures, and already had brain surgery," his father said. The family decided to seek a second opinion.

They called the Cyberonic Corporation in Houston, Texas. The company makes the devices used in VNS therapy.

The company's representative worked with the pediatrician at Gillette Children's Specialty Care in St. Paul. The positive results were almost immediate.

Specialized programs

The New Visions School, which specialized in programs and activities designed to help children with special needs such as autism and epilepsy, offers Cody the specialized help he needs in such areas as language and behavior.

He attended the summer session to ensure his progress would continue. An individual education plan (IEP) is updated as necessary.

Cody's weekends are filled with library trips, and he walks with family members. He follows his dad on his tree service, raking up small pieces of tree branches.

A typical boy

"He doesn't look any different from any other kid," his father said. "And the teachers go into each other's rooms to tell each other how well he is doing. They really care about him at the school."

The Witts indicated Cody's generator has not had any major maintenance repair. The battery may have to be replaced in the next several years.

The Witts do not how far Cody will progress. For now, they are pleased and grateful at the progress he has shown in the past three years, and he appears happy as well.

"He laughs and smiles all the time," his father said.