Kaitlynn Bruce buzzes about her hospital room, an active 8-year-old girl with playtime on her mind.

A wrapping of gauze encircles her head, with an opening for a ponytail of brown hair that swings from side to side.

Under the head dressing, electrodes are attached to her scalp. A bundle of wires leads to a device carried in Kaitlynn’s Spiderman backpack.

The monitoring equipment doesn’t slow Kaitlynn as she tinkers with a toy helicopter, hosts a tea party and sings along with a karaoke machine.

That’s the beauty of the new wireless epilepsy monitoring unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital—the first in Michigan and one of only a few in the U.S.

Pediatric-trained epileptologists and EEG monitoring technicians with the hospital’s Pediatric Neuroscience Center monitor children’s brain activity while letting kids be kids—moving about, playing and interacting with their family and caregivers.

Because of the digital wireless technology, the children don’t have to remain tethered to a monitoring system.

“I like that she is not constantly hooked up to a wire,” said Kaitlynn’s mother, Nakesha Gallimore. “She can actually leave the room to play.”

A more enjoyable stay

In 2005, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital opened a unit for monitoring children with epilepsy. At that time, wires measuring brain activity connected to a monitoring system by a long cable, said Jason Umfleet, MD, a pediatric neurologist and director of the epilepsy monitoring unit.

“The kids were relegated to their rooms. They could only go about 25 to 30 feet from the wall,” he said.

“Now, with the wireless equipment, the kids are able to get out of their room and spend time in the playroom. It is a much better experience for them and a much more enjoyable stay.”

In the nearby playroom, cameras linked to the wireless system follow the children, so technicians can continue to monitor their activities.

During testing, children may stay in the hospital for a range of time—24 hours to several days.

The monitoring provides valuable information to the epileptologists, Dr. Umfleet said.

In some cases, they look to capture a spell to verify whether it is a seizure.

In children already diagnosed with epilepsy, the doctors may need to see the seizure electrically to learn more about them.

And for children whose epilepsy does not respond to medication, doctors may monitor their condition as part of a pre-surgery work-up.

Looking for valuable information

Doctors diagnosed Kaitlynn with focal epilepsy a year ago, at age 7, her mom said. She began to take medication, which has helped control the seizures.

But more recently, Kaitlynn has started experiencing dizzy spells. She went to the epilepsy monitoring unit for a five-day stay to help doctors analyze what’s happening.

“They are trying to see if it’s a seizure or if it’s something else,” Gallimore said.

She took a week off work and left her husband and three sons at home in Gaylord, Michigan, so she could stay with Kaitlynn in the hospital. She hopes the information gathered during the monitoring will help doctors help her daughter.

At first, Kaitlynn objected to the hospital stay, Gallimore said. But she soon warmed up, as she became familiar with staff and found toys and activities to keep her busy. She draws, paints and acts out imaginary scenes with toys.

In the playroom, she plays basketball and explores all the toys stored in the cupboards. On one visit, she made friends with another child also being monitored.

“She loved playing with him,” Gallimore said.

The new wireless monitoring unit opened in August 2019 thanks to the generous support of the Steve and Amy Van Andel family and other donors.

Since its opening, parents have noted the social interaction with other parents and children as a nice bonus, Dr. Umfleet said. It helps their children realize “they’re not the only one.”