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The Changing Face of Epilepsy

Azriela Jaffe

Many people have outdated or mistaken views of seizure disorders — they imagine an incurable disease and patients convulsing on the floor. Family First looks at what life with epilepsy is really like, plus how medical advances are helping doctors successfully treat — and even cure — the disorder.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“Have a nice day at school,” Carole Cohen said to her son Robert, a strapping, six-foot tall, healthy fourteen-year-old, as he walked out the door one morning.

A few hours later, she got a call from the school nurse. “Your son had a seizure and he’s on the way to the hospital.”

“You must have the wrong person,” Carole replied, in a panic.

Driving to the hospital, she started imagining every worst-case scenario. What could cause a healthy boy to have a sudden seizure? A brain tumor? A stroke? Cancer?

“I was a mess by the time I got to the emergency room,” says Carole, who lives in Albertson, Long Island. “The CAT scan and MRI came back clean. That was good news. It was a huge relief that we weren’t dealing with a tumor. Rob played on the junior varsity football team. We wondered if perhaps he’d gotten knocked on the head. We had no answer. The doctors told us it was probably idiopathic — for 70 percent of seizure disorders, there is no known cause. You want to be one of those, because it means no brain injury, but still, this news was so shocking, it was really hard to swallow.”

In the middle of English class, Robert had what is known as a tonic clonic grand mal seizure. First he started having full convulsions, and then lost consciousness. He was diagnosed with epilepsy and put on seizure medications right away.

“After the seizure, I wouldn’t let him be home alone, I even walked him to the bus stop. It made him crazy,” admits Carole.

She didn’t know what kind of life she could now expect for her son, but amazingly, once on seizure medications and after getting the doctor’s clearance, Robert was back to playing football on the varsity team. Today, the nineteen-year-old is doing very well as a college student in a demanding university. “Rob’s life won’t ever include climbing a mountain or swimming by himself, but otherwise, he is focused on living a normal life,” says Carole.


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