New epilepsy unit at St. Mary’s a boon for locals
Dr. Marie Collier specializes in second chances.
As medical director of the epilepsy program at St. Mary’s Hospital, Collier works with people who have seizure disorders, specifically those with hard to manage cases. They’re people who have tried myriad medications to prevent seizures with minimal success. By the time they’re in Collier’s office, patients can be desperate for answers.
“I have a lot of empathy for patients with epilepsy because they tend to be alienated and tend to be discriminated against,” Collier said. “I’m a very strong patient advocate, seeing this group of people disenfranchised solely because they have a disease.”
Collier moved to Grand Junction in September to help run the hospital’s new epilepsy program, including a new four-bed epilepsy monitoring unit that opened in summer 2016 and that’s unique on the Western Slope.
An epilepsy monitoring unit allows doctors, nurses and technicians to monitor patients around the clock by charting the brain’s electrical activity and other physical symptoms in a safe, controlled environment. In some cases, it means that Collier and her team can safely induce seizures and gather data that helps to better treat a patient.
Collier and her team serve nearly 500 patients who previously had to travel to Denver or Salt Lake City for care.
Dr. Logan McDaneld, a neurologist at St. Mary’s Hospital, said building the monitoring unit was part of meeting a community need.
“Prior to this, patients and their families had to drive to Denver or Salt Lake City, which is time consuming, can be risky in winter and for many families cost prohibitive,” he said. “In addition, there was no unit over there willing to see Medicaid patients from the Western Slope. So there was a huge gap in the care that patients were able to receive.”
And along with a state-of-the-art epilepsy monitoring unit, McDaneld said, the hospital wanted to hire top-notch personnel to run it.
Collier previously worked in Montana as the only board-certified epileptologist in the state.
Since coming to St. Mary’s Hospital, she has helped secure the hospital’s level three certification, which “sets us apart and tells people that we maintain a standard of excellence here to be able to provide comprehensive care to patients with complex epilepsy,” Collier said. “My hope is to get the word out to the community that we’re here, they don’t have to drive over the mountain to get care.”
While the new epilepsy unit and advanced technology are important tools, Collier also focuses on treatment options as simple as nutrition, diet, exercise and stress levels.
The more epilepsy patients try medications that fail, the less likely it is that new medications will be effective, Collier said, so exploring every aspect of health is important to a patient’s success.
Collier said she’s looking forward to using more integrative medicine with epilepsy patients and expanding the support network for patients and families who can now receive treatment locally.
“This is possible because of a dynamic group of people who were motivated to bring this to the Grand Valley,” she said. “They’ve been incredibly supportive, and it’s been really, really cool, seeing on a weekly basis the difference we’re making in people’s lives. Getting that kind of feedback keeps me going.”