Mark Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, is chair of WVU Medicine Neurosurgery and a pediatric neurosurgeon who treats a range of brain disorders, including pediatric epilepsy.
Navigating life is different for kids diagnosed with epilepsy, says Dr. Lee. “But I’m here to help ease fears and bring a sense of normalcy to children’s lives.” Kids with epilepsy often don’t go to school and their parents stay home to care for them. Seizures are scary, and when a child has a diagnosis of epilepsy, parents and caregivers can be fearful of the unexpected. “We’re here to help ease those fears.”
Continued seizures affect brain development and speech ability, Lee explains. “Early seizure control is critical, and as providers, we always want to treat children with a seizure disorder sooner rather than later. Depending on the type of seizure, anti-seizure medicines can help manage symptoms. But when medicine doesn’t offer the results we’re looking for, we talk about other options, including surgery,” he says.
Statistics show that 40 percentage of children with a seizure disorder don’t find sufficient seizure control with medication. Even when medicine decreases seizure occurrence, Lee still talks with parents about the possibility of surgery and the benefits it can offer.
Surgery is potentially curative, says Lee. “We can stop seizures in 85 percent of kids with epilepsy. Some children will still need medicine, but much less.”
Lee was a pioneer in the mid-1990s, suggesting that young children can benefit from epilepsy surgery. Before that, surgery was reserved for adults only. Since then, he has performed more than 2,000 epilepsy surgeries in children.
Technological advances have improved epilepsy surgery dramatically, says Lee. For example, a minimally invasive procedure called child laser ablation is performed through a tiny pinhole in the skull, he explains.
“Using electrodes, we can identify the spot in the brain where the seizures occur, then feed a laser fiber through a pinhole to burn that spot in the brain,” he explains. “The child leaves the hospital the next day able to go back to school and enjoy being a kid again.
“Surgery can be life-changing,” says Lee. “After the intervention, the child just blossoms. The kids are amazingly brave.”
Lee jumped at the chance to join the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute to build the pediatric epilepsy program. “I’ve always been fascinated with the human brain and with technology,” he says. “With the kids I have the privilege to serve, and the parents who put their trust in me, I put myself in their shoes. I’m genuinely empathic – putting my whole heart, my passion into helping each and every one.”
He has four grown kids himself – a son and three daughters. Lee keeps healthy by exercising regularly. He loves to travel, too.
Lee also has a passion for entrepreneurship and starting new companies. He started three companies when he lived in Austin, Texas. Now he’s incubating several companies in West Virginia. All his inventions are focused on the brain. Many are medical devices that will improve brain surgery.
Two current inventions he’s working on are a device to help improve surgery for hydrocephalus, a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid collects within the brain, and a device that will help prevent further brain surgery after a stroke, by cooling the brain.
“My goal has always been to help people,” Lee says. “As a surgeon, I can help one person at a time, and if I can develop a new technology that helps hundreds of thousands of people, that excites me, too.”