University of California San Francisco
Robin Marks and Wallace Ravven
Photos by Barbara Ries
For 29 years, from the time she was 12, Rashetta Higgins had been wracked by epileptic seizures – as many as 10 a week – in her sleep, at school, at work.
The Sacramento resident and mother of two lost four jobs over 10 years. One seizure brought her down as she was climbing concrete stairs, leaving a bloody scene and a bad gash near her eye.
“I fell a lot. I’ve had concussions. I’ve gone unconscious. It’s put a lot of wear and tear on my body.”
In 2016, Higgins’ primary-care physician in Vallejo referred her to the UCSF Epilepsy Center at Parnassus Heights, where Higgins began her care.
After three years of unsuccessfully using drugs to control Rashetta’s seizures, UCSF neurologist Vikram Rao recommended surgery to map her brain activity and pinpoint the region that was triggering her brainstorms.
Higgins’ neurosurgeon Edward Chang performed an initial surgery at the UCSF Helen Diller Medical Center at Parnassus Heights to place over 150 electrodes on her brain’s surface.
The sensors tracked brain wave activity for one week. The squiggly EEG recordings of Higgins’ seizures were transformed into a cinematic “heat map” using software developed by neurologist Jon Kleen at UCSF.
The animation, projected onto a virtual model of Higgins’ brain, allowed doctors, for the first time, to watch a seizure spread through the brain’s surface and deeper hidden parts. With this information, the neurosurgeon was able to remove the seizure-producing area of her brain.
The surgery has been a life-changing success for Higgins and her two sons, Joe and Elijah.
Higgins hasn’t had a seizure in nearly three years. That’s enabled big changes for her, including regaining her driver’s license and starting a new job.
Free from seizures, she feels more mentally sharp and on top of things.
“When I wake up, I’m right on it every morning,” she said. “I waited for this day for a long, long time.”
UCSF is transforming its Parnassus Heights campus so that patients like Rashetta can continue to benefit from the convergence of world-class research, education, and patient care.
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