Thanks to a generous $100,000 gift from Jim and Julie Cardwell, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso will upgrade the Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso (TTP El Paso) Epilepsy Center in the university’s Department of Neurology.
The gift will support the department’s efforts to be designated an accredited Level 3 epilepsy center. To do so, it must acquire a year’s worth of data that includes personnel, accessible to center patients, and safety and treatment protocols. TTP El Paso is the medical practice of the Foster School of Medicine.
“Donations like this are a game changer,” said Salvador Cruz-Flores, M.D., professor and founding chair of the Department of Neurology. “Without donor support, the ability to achieve this designation would be on hold or postponed due to clinical revenue challenges during the pandemic. Every day a patient suffers from seizures is an opportunity missed to treat our community with specialized care.”
The Cardwell’s gift will help the neurology department to continue to hire experts and secure equipment to provide comprehensive care for the epilepsy patients, obtain Level 3 accreditation and ultimately a Level 4 epilepsy center, said Sushma R. Yerram, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and clinical neurophysiology-epilepsy specialist.
There also are uninsured patients who are unable to get these services or go through epilepsy surgery and future donations could be used to provide them much needed epilepsy surgery through the center and make them seizure free, Dr. Yerram said.
The epilepsy center needs to hire a neuropsychologist before applying for a Level 3 designation from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers. A neuropsychologist analyzes how the seizures are impacting a patient’s memory and language. Neuropsychologists also can perform counselling services to both epilepsy patients and other psychiatric disorders.
“When we heard about the vision to achieve a level 3 designation for the TTUHSC EP Epilepsy Center, Julie and I knew our gift would be well invested,” Jim Cardwell said. “Our continued goal in working with the neurology department is to grow the resources and specialty care available to our community so that families do not have leave El Paso for treatment. The pandemic has been a challenging year for so many, so this was our way of giving back that transforms care for those who suffer from neurological disorders.”
Having an accredited epilepsy center would allow the department to serve and treat complex cases so the team can evaluate and diagnose patients more effectively and holistically to improve outcomes.
“Currently, we have no Level 4 epilepsy center in El Paso,” Dr. Yerram said. “Thirty percent of epilepsy patients develop refractory epilepsy —which refers to those patients who continue to have seizures despite of two or more seizure medications— for these patients their next option is epilepsy surgery. At present, we refer these patients to San Antonio and some of the patients are not able to bear the hardship of traveling out of town for care, especially during the pandemic so they continue to endure almost daily seizures. Working toward a Level 3 and then Level 4 epilepsy center will allow us to make these refractory epilepsy patients seizure free and improve their quality of life.”
The Epilepsy Center at TTP El Paso has a strong partnership with University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC), the county’s nonprofit public hospital and primary teaching site for TTUHSC El Paso. As the number of COVID-19 cases decreases at UMC, TTP El Paso expects to reopen its epilepsy monitoring unit to build the volume of evaluated epilepsy patients, which would allow it to become an accredited epilepsy center in about a year.
The Cardwells are no strangers to TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Neurology. In 2019, a $750,000 gift from the Jim and Julie Cardwell Fund and the Cardwell Family Foundation helped TTUHSC El Paso establish an endowed chair in the Department of Neurology.
TTUHSC El Paso matched that gift, creating a $1.5 million fund to establish the Jim and Julie Cardwell Endowed Chair in Neurology. The gift and endowed chair are part of a long-term goal to increase the number of neurologists in El Paso.
“As we committed when we established the Jim and Julie Cardwell Endowed Chair in Neurology, we will continue to improve healthcare across our region for future generations,” Jim Cardwell said.”
There’s a shortage of neurologists nationwide, leading to a “neurology desert” in areas with no neurologists. Though El Paso is not in that situation, with 29 practicing neurologists, there are too few for a city this size, and El Paso patients are faced with long waiting lists, Dr. Yerram said.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, a city should have five to seven neurologists for every 100,000 inhabitants. With a population of 839,000, El Paso County should have 40-56 neurologists. Because El Paso neurologists serve patients from the entire Paso del Norte region, the number of neurologists needed could be much higher, Dr. Cruz-Flores said.
In 1990, the Epilepsy Center at TTP El Paso was founded formally via funding received by the Texas Department of Health Services. It’s housed at the Foster School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology under TTUHSC El Paso. The Department of Neurology’s Epilepsy Center is the only site where uninsured patients may receive epilepsy services through this funding. Since 2011, the center’s personnel also provide epilepsy outreach centers across West Texas.
As part of the Epilepsy Center’s partnership with UMC, patients needing emergency or inpatient care may be directly admitted. Diagnostic lab work and any other diagnostic/evaluative procedures such as electroencephalograms (EEGs), computerized axial tomographies (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) can be readily performed at the hospital facilities. UMC’s laboratory has an affiliation with the Mayo Center Medical and Athena Laboratories, which enables TTUHSC El Paso to obtain the most sophisticated genetic chemical, DNA, and chromosomal analysis.
Support the mission of TTUHSC El Paso: For more information on how to make an investment in the future of health care in the Paso del Norte region and take advantage of matching funds, contact Andrea Tawney, vice president of TTUHSC El Paso’s Office of Institutional Advancement, at email@example.com.