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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Implanted device curbs Valpo man's seizures

Implanted device curbs Valpo man's seizures

VALPARAISO | A small scar on the left side of his chest is one of only a few outward signs that John Camacho is not 100 percent OK.

The Valparaiso man, who turns 33 in July, seems to live like an average bachelor.

A framed black-and-white aerial shot of Wrigley Field hangs above the TV in the front room of his one-bedroom apartment. A gray schnauzer-pug mix named Luke follows him from room to room.

But, Camacho cannot work nor drive. Only recently did he start living on his own.

"I might look like I'm 100 percent, but I'm not," he said.

A car crash nearly 13 years ago put him in a coma for two weeks. When he emerged, nothing looked familiar, not even faces of loved ones.

For 2 1/2 years, he re-learned the basics. He took first steps and learned words like "hat" and "television" and "blue."

"I had to learn how to walk, do everything," he said.

Regular seizures interrupted his progress. A bad headache or a wave of sleepiness would signal an approaching seizure. Camacho couldn't be alone the first five years.

"I felt like I had no life," he said.

That changed 14 months ago. After undergoing an hour-long procedure at Methodist Hospitals Southlake campus in Merrillville, Camacho now has a regular stream of electricity pulsing into his brain via a wire device implanted in his chest. It dispenses Vagus Nerve Stimulation, or VNS, therapy.

At the signs of an approaching seizure, he swipes a magnetic bracelet against the device in his chest, and it sends a jolt of electricity to his brain, derailing the seizure.

The technology loosened the tether on his life. He can enjoy the nightlife of downtown Chicago or get dinner with his family and friends without fear of a seizure.

He still cannot drive or work. He keeps busy helping the older people in his apartment complex or playing cards and dice with them.

Camacho believes he survived the accident to help others and to be a sign of hope.

"God kept me here for a reason," he said.

The accident happened when Camacho, driving a friend's car home, nodded off at the wheel. He woke up as the car was about to flip. Camacho recalls he saw St. Michael the Archangel, who told him to go to sleep, as he wrapped Comacho in his wings.

The car hit a tree and wrapped around it. He didn't break any bones and suffered only a small cut on his head. But his brain was damaged.

Camacho doesn't remember the accident and says he went to heaven while he was in a coma. Some doubted he would survive, but Camacho said the 8-foot-tall, muscular St. Michael watched over him at the hospital.

"You can believe it or not," he said. "I just know what I saw."

Camacho said he's always been a people person and enjoyed having fun. Since his accident, his attitude is even more upbeat.

"Rock it out to the fullest," Camacho said. "You never know. Tomorrow, you can be gone."

People are too stressed out, he said.

"They're missing everything," he said.

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