Taylor boy overcomes fear of epilepsy test by channeling a super hero

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — Four-year-old Joey Owen showed up at Beaumont Hospital ready to "Hulk smash" his most recent electroencephalogram, a brain test needed to monitor his epilepsy.

"He has screamed and cried and fought his way through every single one up until this recent one, where he came dressed up as the Hulk," said Joey's mom, Rebecca Owen of Taylor. "He wanted to dress up as the Hulk to feel brave."

Even though the test can take an hour to conduct and can be more challenging than defeating Thanos, Joey was inspired by his favorite super hero, the Hulk, to conquer the technical procedure and share his new approach at a Tuesday press conference.

Four-year-old Joey Owen, a patient at Beaumont Health, has dressed up as his favorite superhero the Hulk to get over his fear of taking an hour-long test for monitoring his epilepsy.

It is a creative way to overcome a stressful test that is needed to monitor epilepsy, which is marked by repeated seizures in which patients lose consciousness and sometimes shake uncontrollably. Health providers need to tap such creativity and flexibility so tests can be made more appealing to children, Beaumont Health officials said.

"This is actually very eye opening to me to be honest, because we order these tests all the time," said Dr. Rawad Obeid, a pediatric neurologist at Beaumont who diagnosed Joey's epilepsy at 2 years old. "It's very encouraging and nice to see that kids could be very creative and smart in dealing with that stressful situation."

EEG technologist Jimmy Najia said the procedure consists of two phases that take about an hour in total, the set-up and the recording. Patients have approximately 28 electrodes glued to their scalp in specific areas to record brain activity, a process that  can be long and uncomfortable, Najia said. Patients are also presented with stimulating experience, such as flashing lights, and have to do breathing tests, both of which can be difficult for epileptic people, he said.

Another EEG technologist of Joey's, Ivana Gavran Danilyuk, said children often struggle with the test because they can't see what is being done to their head.

Four-year-old Joey Owen undergoing an electroencephalography test dressed as his favorite superhero the Hulk.

"I think in a sense it's scary because the patient is lying down or sitting and we're behind," Gavran Danilyuk said. "Of course they're going to be turning every second like, 'What're you doing back there?' so it's a little terrifying."

Neither of Joey's technologists had seen a patient arrive for their appointment in costume before. It is good to think outside of the box and look for ways to make medical tests more appealing to children, Obeid said. 

Joey began having seizures when he was six months old, the doctor said.

"Luckily, a lot of these children, they outgrow it later in life," Obeid said. "But for the time in their life that they have it, which can vary..., they need to be on a treatment, because the seizure itself is obviously dangerous."

Joey has been seizure free for two years, Obeid said, thanks to treatment but still has to have biannual tests to monitor his brainwaves. 

Rebecca Owen said she was on board with anything that would make the situation more comforting for her son. 

"I think it's important to know that you can face your fears," she said, "and that not every situation is the same and to have hope that you can conquer your fears being whoever you need to be to get through it."