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Pediatric Epilepsy Program of Saskatchewan Gears Up for Opening of New Children’s Hospital

While the bricks and mortar are the most visible parts of the new Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, staff recruitment is well underway to provide new programs that will help care for our province’s kids right here at home.

Dr. Salah AlmubarakPediatric neurologist Dr. Salah Almubarak moved to Saskatchewan in 2014 to take on the role of lead specialist in building the Pediatric Epilepsy Program of Saskatchewan for the provincial pediatrics department. The mission of the program is to provide epileptic children and their families with diagnostic options and medical, surgical, and alternative therapies. It’s a key area for Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, with epilepsy being the third most common brain disorder affecting about 1% of all children.

“Our vision is to show real and lasting improvement in the quality of life for children with epilepsy,” explains Almubarak, who trained at BC Children’s Hospital before moving on to the Cleveland Clinic, widely considered one of the top hospitals in the United States.

The program is pioneering a cutting-edge diagnostic tool in Saskatchewan called Stereo-EEG (SEEG), an innovative option popular in Europe. SEEG is a more refined, less invasive procedure that allows a surgeon to locate the origin of a patient’s seizure with just tiny drill marks rather than open brain surgery. It’s safer, more efficient, and significantly less painful for young patients. SEEG was done for the first time in children with epilepsy in Saskatchewan last year. Only a few pediatric centres in Canada offer the procedure.

“This new diagnostic option is putting Saskatchewan at the forefront of care, replacing the outdated treatment of subdural electrodes,” says Almubarak. “In working in partnership with neurosurgeon Dr. Adam Wu, we are very proud of our success in comparison to other centres.”

Dr. Salah Almubarak and pediatric epilepsy patient

While approximately 70% of young patients are treated with medication, Almubarak is also responsible for the first standard model of Saskatchewan’s Ketogenic Diet Clinic in Saskatoon, which was launched in 1992 by Dr. Noel Lowry and dietician Eline Niebergall. A Ketogenic diet is a special high-fat, low carbohydrate diet that helps control seizures in some children with epilepsy. The diet is usually recommended for kids whose seizures have not responded to anti-seizure medications. The clinic works with three part-time dieticians to provide care to 42 patients across Saskatchewan. Several studies have reported that about half of children who go on the diet see their seizures reduced by 50%. Some children have even more dramatic results, with approximately 10-15% becoming seizure-free.

With work on the new Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital at 80% complete, Almubarak’s goal for the program is to create efficiencies by having a new Epilepsy Monitoring Unit share space with Saskatchewan’s first dedicated combined Pediatric EEG and Sleep Lab. He also hopes to establish a First Seizure Clinic.

“A First Seizure Clinic will allow us to do the diagnostic and treatment work early,” says Almubarak, who sees over 1200 patients visits a year with about 200 of those patients dealing with new onset seizures. “It’s easier to deal with the small things before a child’s medical issues become significantly more complicated. When we can get kids treated early, they don’t need as much care later on, which reduces the weight on our health care system. It’s better for everyone.”

While many young patients once needed to travel out of province for epileptic care, Almubarak wants families and their general physicians to know that the Pediatric Epilepsy Program of Saskatchewan is here to help and improve patient care. The program is growing so significantly that the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation has created a designated fund specific to pediatric epilepsy.

“We are so excited to be able to offer a unique option to support pediatric epilepsy in our province,” says Brynn Boback-Lane, President and CEO of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Donations to our new pediatric epilepsy fund will support kids and families right here at home with urgently needed equipment and technology enhancements, research and innovation, and family-centered care.”

“We are here to support families with a made in Saskatchewan program,” says Almubarak. “This program will help keep our children and families closer to home.”

To support pediatric epilepsy, you can donate to Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation’s Pediatric Epilepsy fund by clicking on “designated funds” at pattisonchildrens.ca/donate.

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