Last month Whitehorse mom Fawn Fritzen was able to tell her friends on Facebook that her nine-year-old daughter Jade, who has epilepsy, had been seizure-free for five years.
For years, Fritzen and Jade's dad Michael Pealow, kept track of every snack and meal Jade ate, took ketone readings morning and night and recorded every seizure they observed.
On May 16, 2010, they observed two. Those were the last seizures they saw Jade have. For her parents, Jade's recovery is a miracle.
"You know she had been a really healthy bright cheerful girl and once the seizures started and kept getting worse and worse and with side effects from the medications we saw her basically turn into a zombie, she was not responsive, she was not learning anymore, and we didn't know if we'd ever get her back," says Fritzen.
With the epilepsy medications not working, Jade's parents put her on a ketogenic diet. The therapy was used in the past, but fell into disuse with the development of anticonvulsant drugs.
The diet is mostly fat with a little protein and almost no carbohydrates. The lack of glucose as an energy source in the body is what reduces and eliminates seizures. Much of Jade's nutrition came from vitamin supplements.
'Not a fad' diet and 'very strict'
Pealow says the diet was tried after consultation with a doctor. He says it was not easy as everything Jade ate had to be measured to a tenth of a gram.
"It's definitely not some kind of fad type thing, it is a very strict, medically-supervised diet that has its own side effects. Most people will go to medications first because they are easier," he says.
Fritzen says, in theory, the diet could help anyone with epilepsy.
"It's not usually used as a first line of defense because it's quite a challenging treatment and the whole family has to be committed to it," she says.
Jade is now on a regular diet and has no seizures. Spaghetti is her favourite food. The changes have opened up many more activities for the whole family.
"We went camping on the long weekend which is something that we hadn't done in — I don't think we've done that as a family cause it was really difficult to get all of Jade's food ready for a weekend," says Fritzen.
Pealow says Jade's health was so bad it's still a little difficult to believe it's over.
"Even after she had been seizure-free for a couple of years I'd still have nightmares that she was having a seizure or going to have a seizure. I still watch her closely for any sign." he says.
Family hopes for ten years without a seizure
Pealow and Fritzen say since the mainstream use of the diet has only been revived in recent decades it's hard to know what the long term seizure-free prospects are for Jade, but they're optimistic. They've been told ten years without seizures should mean they won't come back.
Fritzen and another parent, Angela Drainville, established Epilepsy Yukon earlier this year and they are happy to talk to anyone who would like more information.
They can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org and http://www.epilepsyyukon.ca/ .