Palo Alto resident Alfred Bostic struggled with debilitating epilepsy for 62 years -- until a single operation at Stanford exactly one year ago left him seizure-free for the first time since infancy.
At just 8 months old, Bostic fell ill with whooping cough, bronchitis and pneumonia, leading to a 12-hour coma. Though his doctor called his survival from the coma a miracle, Bostic said he was left with significant brain damage, including frequent epileptic seizures.
"Epilepsy is one of the most misunderstood diseases, with a certain stigma attached to it," said Dr. Robert Fisher, Bostic's longtime neurologist and director of Stanford Hospital & Clinics' Epilepsy Center. He described an epileptic seizure as "an electrical storm in the brain."
According to Fisher, about 1 percent of the world's population has epilepsy. Two out of three of those cases are controlled with a variety of 20 different epileptic medications. But a third of patients, including Bostic, are resistant to the medication.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Bostic suffered from seizures at least once a week.
"I would shake and lose my breath. Eventually, I just had to quit school altogether," he said.
Bostic later found success at an adult school in San Jose in 1978, earning As in math, history and English.
His passion for sports was never dampened by his disability. In 1984, Bostic competed in the Special Olympics at UC Berkeley, where he won the gold medal in shot put and softball toss. He also competed in volleyball, basketball and softball.
But epilepsy did interfere with his ability to keep a job. Because Bostic frequently had seizures at work, he was laid off from Safeway in Menlo Park after seven years, and later from Walmart, he said.
"I was a good worker and everything, but they just didn't want to see me hurt myself," he said.
Bostic's seizures also caused life-threatening injuries. In 2000 he collapsed and broke his neck. The following year another seizure caused him to fall and re-injure his neck.
His final major injury occurred in 2005 after his head hit the ground during a seizure, resulting in brain contusions (bruises). The accident also led to blood clots in his brain.
Since Bostic's symptoms did not respond to medication and his seizures occurred frequently enough to impose on everyday life, Fisher asked Bostic to consider surgery.
"I want to live my life like everybody else, so, yes, I wanted the surgery," Bostic said.
According to Fisher, Bostic was the perfect candidate, with a specific and single focal point -- the part of the brain where seizures activate -- centered in the inner part of his left temporal lobe. With multiple focal points, removal is difficult and the chances of complications increase.
"The removal of one temporal lobe is (as) safe as removing one kidney," Fisher said.
Since his operation in August 2010, Bostic has been seizure-free. He now works at Best Buddies, a nonprofit that matches people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with employment and leadership opportunities and with friends and activity partners.
As director at the local branch of Best Buddies, Bostic searches for those who are interested in having a "best buddy" volunteer to pair up with. He's been a member himself for the past seven years, and Best Buddies has given him the opportunity to go to numerous Stanford sporting events and concerts.
Bostic said his mother, Marion Bostic, considers him "a miracle child."
"My mother is very happy for me. I live to witness that when prayers go up, blessings come down," he said.