EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – When Dr. Karen Skjei (pronounced like the name “Shay”) was working in Austin, she noticed something peculiar about some of the patients she or her colleagues encountered.
Dr. Skjei, who specializes in pediatric epilepsy, noted that families from El Paso were making the long trip across the state for treatment.
“And my Texas geography isn’t great, but we were getting El Paso patients in Austin,” she said. “And I was like, ‘That’s far away, isn’t it?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah.’”
She estimates there are nine or ten doctors in Austin specializing in pediatric epilepsy, but she soon realized there were none in El Paso.
Skjei eventually decided that her services could be put to use in the Borderland, so she packed up and moved to El Paso in March, hoping to open her own practice in July.
The seizures and other issues caused by epilepsy can be difficult to manage and could potentially even lead to death.
“One of the statistics that I share with people that usually shocks them is that there are actually more deaths in the U.S. due to epilepsy than breast cancer,” Dr. Skjei said.
In addition to the problems caused by epilepsy itself, many Borderland residents were facing a huge financial strain paying for long trips to cities such as Austin or Phoenix for treatment. But Skjei’s presence in El Paso means many families no longer have to face such a huge financial burden.
However, some are still facing the stigma attached to the condition, which is something the doctor is hoping to help change over time.
“Epilepsy is kind of more in the shadows. People don’t talk about it,” she said. “People are a little bit ashamed of it and a little afraid of it.”
Around one out of every 100 to 200 children is currently suffering from epilepsy. Dr. Skjei says, based on population estimates, that means around 1,300 to 2,600 children in El Paso are dealing with this condition.
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