When Brittany Levasseur posted a story on Reddit about how her husband, Eric, had been playing Destiny to help recover from brain surgery, a few people noticed. Stories were written, and Bungie community manager Deej sent Eric a one of kind gun. I spoke to Brittany to find out more about Eric's treatment, and how Destiny has helped with his post-op recovery.
“My husband's neurological issues really began about 8 years ago, when he was in college for video game programming,” explains Brittany. “He started having nocturnal seizures, and although they couldn't pinpoint exactly what was wrong, anti-epileptics initially seemed to have it under control.” However, with the underlying condition undefined, what started as a serious but controllable condition began to worsen, spreading into daytime seizures. The problems were further confounded by the changing nature of Eric's symptoms. “Medications that worked one month were ineffective the next,” says Brittany. Towards the final year of college, Eric was forced to leave education completely, and even give up driving.
He did at least have a diagnosis by that point: severe refractory epilepsy
He did at least have a diagnosis by that point: severe refractory epilepsy. He also had video games. Eric was fortunate that his seizures didn’t respond to visual stimuli. As Brittany puts it: “gaming was a saving grace”. Whatever else the epilepsy hindered, Eric could play games for as long as he was able.
“We are pretty dedicated gamers,” says Brittany. “We own literally every major system and every handheld. For shooters, of course there is Halo, which was actually the first game we ever played together. He also enjoyed Counter Strike and Borderlands. We both played World of Warcraft and he is a huge Final Fantasy fan. But Journey, LittleBigPlanet, Legend of Zelda... I could go on for ages talking about all the games we play”.
However, Eric’s situation worsened. The seizures lengthened to hours at a time and he was taking high enough doses of medication to kill someone whose system hadn't built up a tolerance. The benefits were minimal - the seizures continued and, according to Brittany, “between their side effects and the non-stop seizures, Eric lost his ability to do almost everything”.
Which is where brain surgery comes in. At the peak of his epilepsy, Eric’s seizures became life threatening. “The awful thing about seizures is that the more you have, the more you will have,” points out Brittany. “All that electricity bouncing around the brain increases the likelihood of more seizures, and at one of Eric’s worst events he was having grand mal seizures less than five minutes apart for almost an entire day, while the hospital frantically tried make them stop”.
It’s at that point where the risks of opening up someone's head are less than doing nothing. Over the course of 11 months Eric underwent seven different operations on his brain. Those involved multiple resections to remove pieces of tissue from his temporal and frontal lobes, two areas Brittany describes as “epileptic focal points”.
Now, the brain, like much of the body, is incredibly resilient, but it needs time to heal. Following his surgeries Eric suffered side effects such as memory loss, short term memory impairment, and impaired speech. There are various ways to help treat things like this, and games were actually part of his initial physical therapy, with doctors pointing the couple towards the brain training site Lumosity.
There were problems though, says Brittany. Lumosity was exhausting for Eric, both because of his recovery, and because it was essentially work. What he really wanted to play was Destiny. And, fortunately, his neurologist saw no problem in a change of tack, citing the promise games show as therapy tools for brain impairment. Just so long as it didn’t completely replace other treatments. So Eric started playing Destiny under the advisement that he should “take it slow and listen to his body”.
The results were “pretty immediate,” says Brittany. “He could play for an hour straight before he was tired, then two, then four. What's more he was often playing without any noticeable impairments, sailing through bounties and patrols. He had entire strategies mapped out for farming and gaining reputation, and he loved to talk about them.” As well as these obviously physical benefits as he played, Brittany says his energy levels and mood also noticeably increased.
Brittany believes the benefits came “from the simple ability to do something normally again” at a time when many things were a struggle. “Here is something that has been almost completely unaffected: the ability to play a game. It motivates and engages him, and has potential benefits to help heal him as well.”
Because he still has trouble communicating, Raids with other players were an issue. Even something as simple as stating that he is stuck was a problem, Brittany explained in the original Reddit post. Perhaps the most touching part of the story, then, has been the response of the Destiny community, who quickly organised numerous raiding parties to help out. “Eric has been through the raid with a few groups of people, and a regular raid group is being organized from the amazing Destiny Reddit community," says Brittany. "He loved it”. In case you were wondering, Eric plays a hunter, currently favouring the Blade Dancer subclass.
There’s a long road ahead for Eric, but Destiny could be making it shorter and easier to travel. “He hasn't seen his neurologist since getting the game,” mentions Brittany. “They run him through speech and memory tests every time, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how he has improved”.
This article originally appeared on Kotaku UK, our gaming-obsessed site. Check them out for original reporting, gaming culture, and humour.