NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, January 29, 2016, 12:31 PM
High-fat football snacks staved off Shea McGivney’s epileptic seizures.
Super Bowl snacks saved a Long Island boy’s life.
Shea McGivney, 12, suffered frequent seizures from atypical childhood absence epilepsy that didn’t respond to medication. But eating a high-fat diet of chicken wings, pork rind pancakes, butter and cream for two years rewired his brain to make him healthy.
“He’s seizure-free. We haven’t been to the hospital in almost a year,” says his mom Julie McGivney from Wading River. “It’s definitely a time to celebrate.”
Shea didn’t suffer grand mal seizures that come with violent spasms and loss of consciousness, but he would begin blinking rapidly and “space out” into a trancelike state, sometimes several times a day, which hurt his schoolwork and his social life.
He was prescribed the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, which retrains the body to convert fats into fuel rather than breaking down the carbs (a.k.a. sugars) it normally prefers.
Shea could only eat fatty foods like chicken wings, pork rind pancakes, nuts and pigs-in-blankets without the blankets, along with supplements.
“Something about the switch in metabolism…provides an anti-seizure effect in the brain,” says Courtney Schnabel Glick, Shea’s registered dietitian coordinator at the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. “It really can be a life-saver for some people.”
Doctors have long noticed that fasting patients suffered less seizures as their starved bodies turned to fat stores for fuel. The keto diet fell out of fashion as more anti-seizure medications were developed. But it’s becoming popular again for young epilepsy patients who don’t respond to the meds.
“Because Shea failed so many other medications, he needed a completely different course of action,” says Dr. Judith Bluvstein, Shea’s physician at NYU’s Epilepsy Center, who reveals Shea had a 5% chance of becoming seizure-free after failing three medications.
The keto diet worked wonders on him.
Mom Julie McGivney says depriving Shea of pizza, birthday cake and juice boxes when he was 8 was a “nightmare,” but ultimately worth it.
“It really is just amazing,” says Dr. Bluvstein. “The seizures were less and less, and over time they dissipated. The diet made a huge difference.”
But the football-friendly fatty menu isn’t all fun and games.
“Trying telling an 8-year-old he can no longer have Cheez-Its, birthday cake, pizza and juice boxes,” says McGivney. “This is a family’s worst nightmare diet.”
So she got creative about reimagining her son’s favorite snacks to fit the diet’s strict 2:1 ratio, where he was eating twice as many fats as protein and carbs combined — and staying under 10 grams of carbs per day, which amounts to just a handful of blueberries or four carrot sticks.
Today Shea, 12, is seizure-free, since his brain was rewired to break down fats for fuel instead of carbs.
“He loved Buffalo wings,” says McGivney, who also whipped up pancakes from ground up pork rinds in lieu of flour, fried cheddar sticks, and made pigs-in-a-blanket without the breaded blankets. “This was the hardest thing we’ve ever done…but it was worth it. By six months, he was hardly having any seizures.”
Parents shouldn’t try this at home alone for their kids. Side effects can include constipation, dehydration and kidney stones, so doctors monitor blood and urine throughout the diet.
“This is a medical treatment,” cautions Glick. “It should never be done without the supervision of a medical staff.”
After weaning off the fatty regimen over the last two years, today Shea is still seizure-free. The family is toasting his health on Super Bowl Sunday with a throwback spread of wings, pork rind pancakes and fried cheese sticks while he roots for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.