Hilary's Story

The Power of Progress – Metabolic Treatments for Epilepsy

“The ketogenic diet often works to control seizures across the age span, even when medications fail to do so. Moreover, the diet may even treat the underlying disease process itself.” -Dr. Jong Rho

From Seizures to Success - Hilary Hansen 23 Years Later 

Hilary Hansen was five when she fell unconscious in her Coronado kindergarten class in October 1998. Physicians at a local hospital thought she had low blood sugar and sent her home.

When Hilary began having numerous seizures her mother, Debbie, knew something was very wrong. Debbie brought Hilary to the Sam S. and Rose Stein Emergency Care Center at Rady Children’s Hospital where she was hospitalized for a week and took several medications to try to stop the seizures. None of them worked. Hilary was experiencing between six and 40 seizures a day, which took a toll on her entire body. “The medications I was taking left me feeling like I was in a vegetative state.” Hilary explains. “My mom was desperate to get her little girl back.”

Neurologist Mark Nespeca, MD, director of the EEG (electroencephalogram) lab at Rady Children’s and Clinical Professor of Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, put Hilary on an MCT (medium chain triglyceride) ketogenic diet. Studies have shown the MCT ketogenic diet to be effective in reducing seizures by increasing ketone levels.

“Ketone levels had to be high enough to prevent seizures,” her mother Debbie said. “I had to weigh and measure everything that went into her mouth, and she had to eat everything on her plate for the diet to work.” Debbie packed Hilary’s lunch, and a school employee sat next to her to make sure she ate every ounce of her food.

“I hated that diet,” said Hilary.

Though sticking to this regimen was difficult, the results were remarkable. After just three weeks on the diet combined with traditional anti-seizure medication, Hilary was seizure-free. “About six months after she started the diet, we tapered her off one of two anti-seizure medications she was taking,” Dr. Nespeca said. “The diet became a real challenge for Hilary, so we took her off of it in June of 2000, and she remained seizure free. In the summer of 2001, she was totally off all medications. Hilary is an outstanding success story.”

Though it would have been much easier to take a pill than to weigh every ounce of food she gave her daughter, Debbie considers the diet to be a lifesaver “Hilary would have had to stay on anti-seizure medications that weren’t working at all,” Debbie said. Now, 23 years later and a successful professional, Hilary shares her story to give parents hope.

Today, a progressive new era in metabolic treatments for epilepsy and other brain disorders is being advanced by Rady Children’s Institute of Neuroscience, promising brighter days ahead for patients and their families.