Epilepsy Awareness Month: Breaking up the stigma

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Epilepsy is a neurological disorder affecting more than 3 million Americans, but the stigma surrounding this condition can make life more difficult for those living with it.

Enrique Jaramillo was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 15. Now, in his mid-20s, he remembers his first seizure when he was having dinner one night.

“After my seizures I really don’t know how I get home or how things happen, and it’s because my body goes on autopilot,” he said, describing what recovery from a seizure is like.

After he was diagnosed with epilepsy, he was in denial. He continued his everyday activities until he had a car accident, caused by a seizure that occurred while he was driving, leaving his car totaled and almost $2,000 in fines.

He said that after this accident, he crashed his car one more time, driving into wooden poles by the road.

“I just drove like that all the way home, I saw my bumper hanging off,” Jaramillo said. “I thought this was really scary. I could kill someone like that or I could even kill myself.”

That was the turning point when Jaramillo decided to get help and start treating his seizures.

He is now taking medication daily and through Vagus nerve stimulation, which sends electrical stimuli to his brain to prevent the seizures. Now his seizures are down from 80 a month to about 15.

Jaramillo said he wishes he had started the treatment sooner, but because of the stigma surrounding this disorder, he couldn’t make his peace with it for some time.

“It has nothing to do with what [people] did in their past life or a punishment, it is just like any other neurological condition,” said Dr. Sushma Yerram, a physician at the Texas Tech Department of Neurology.

She explained that epilepsy is treatable, but it is important for those with seizures to visit their doctor and start medication. She said it could take some time to find the right combination of treatments for each person because of the different seizures they might have.

The most common seizures are the ones occurring in every part of the brain, causing whole body convulsions — so-called generalized seizures.

She said some seizures only happen in certain parts of the brain, which can make people act unusual, stop talking abruptly or just not act like themselves.

Each person is different, but she said, it’s important to educate about proper ways to care for a person having a seizure.

“Make sure they are rolled to the side so that they don’t aspirate on their own fluid, it can cause pneumonia,” Yerram said, adding that you shouldn’t put your fingers in someone’s mouth because you can get injured and the person seizing cannot choke on their tongue, which is a common misconception.

Jaramillo said he wanted to reach out to the community and those who don’t know much about epilepsy, so he started holding classes in elementary schools and is now writing about his journey in his blog.

“To people with epilepsy: you’re not alone, there’s always help out there,” said Jaramillo.

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