WHS Student Recounts Her Struggle with Epilepsy


Written by Haley Saffer, The Woodgrove Outlander

One in 26 people in the United States will develop epilepsy. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly ten percent of the world’s population will have a single unprovoked seizure. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain and marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, a loss of consciousness, or convulsions.

I am one of the people who developed epilepsy. The thought of having epilepsy had never crossed my mind before, not even after my first experience with epilepsy.

I remember jogging after school, but I don’t remember blacking out, or my neighbors finding me on the side of the road and calling an ambulance. I came back to consciousness while I was still on the side of the road, but my mind couldn’t connect names to faces, find words to form a sentence, or find an explanation for the dirt, bruises, and blood currently covering my body.

The hospital performed many tests, but they were just as confused as I was. All the tests came back normal, leaving no explanation for the incident so, the incident was forgotten.

However, over the next couple of weeks after the first incident, similar incidents kept happening. I would be doing normal daily tasks and wake up with bruises and cuts, not knowing what happened.  I had no idea this was all building up to the morning of September 12th, in which Woodgrove Sophomore Claudia Chavez, witnessed me having a seizure.

“Haley’s head tilted back and her arms extended out completely with her hands curled down. Her jaw opened and locked and didn’t move. Immediately, I got up and rushed over to her. I pushed away the coffee table and took the coffee cup from her. Everything happened so fast. She went from speaking to me to seizing,” said Chavez.

“Afterwards, I kept saying I don’t want my best friend to die. And that’s what I felt. I was scared I was going to lose my best friend that day,” Chavez continued.

Chavez didn’t lose me that day; shortly afterwards, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. A part of me found closure in being diagnosed, but another part of me was freaking out. I was afraid people would look at me differently. I was afraid others would look at me like I was looking at myself; I was a stranger to myself. I knew I had epilepsy, but I didn’t know what epilepsy was.

I’ve realized having epilepsy doesn’t change who I am but, it does test my patience sometimes. After having a seizure, I am not allowed to drive for at least six months, exercise or go swimming alone for at least two months.

Epilepsy involves a lot of waiting; waiting to drive, waiting to exercise, waiting to find the right concoction of medicine to stop my seizures, but, I would wait forever if it meant I would never hurt anybody by having a seizure.

Throughout history, epilepsy was very misunderstood. The first mention of epilepsy begins with the Babylonians. Babylonians believed epilepsy was caused by the presence of demons, believing the type of seizure depended on the type of demon that infected the individual. However, the Greeks referred to epilepsy as “the Sacred Disease” believing it was a curse from the Gods.  It wasn’t until 400 B.C. when Hippocrates, the father of medicine, offered another view of epilepsy, that it was just another natural disease.

To this day there are still many misconceptions about epilepsy and what to do when someone is having a seizure, “Epilepsy is not contagious and when someone is having a seizure, do not stick something in their mouth,” advises the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia.

The mission of the National Epilepsy Foundation is to correct misconceptions and to “stop seizures and SUDEP (sudden unexpected death in epilepsy), to find a cure and to overcome the challenges created by epilepsy through efforts including education, advocacy and research to accelerate ideas into therapies.”

Due to misconceptions, many individuals diagnosed with epilepsy, keep it a secret. Many writers and composers had epilepsy in secret; such as, Charles Dickens, Michelangelo, Edgar Allan Poe, Peter Tchaikovsky, Leonardo Da Vinci, Socrates, and Sir Isaac Newton. Therefore, epilepsy is also called, “the Poet’s Affliction,” because so many writers had epilepsy.

Over time, many innovations have been made in researching epilepsy. Currently, there are about 20 medications that can be used successfully to treat epileptic seizures and surgery is an alternative for some people whose seizures cannot be controlled by medications. Also, many foundations have been created to help fund epilepsy research.