Thirty year old Nathan Alexander of Knoxville, Tennessee has always been athletic, whether it was kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico, swimming or hiking. After having his first seizure in 2009 he worried that those days might be behind him. However, not only has he been able to continue his athletic endeavors, he has been able to incorporate epilepsy advocacy into the events in which he participates in order to inspire others and also raise funds to aid in epilepsy research.
When Nathan first began to take to take medication for his seizures, it actually worked so well that he began to stop taking it because he believed that he didn’t need it anymore. Then, in November of 2011, Nathan very nearly suffered catastrophe. He was driving when he began to experience what he knew were signs that he was about to have a seizure, including what he describes as a “pinching behind my eye.” These signs and symptoms are often described as auras.
Nathan’s last thought before the seizure was “I have to stop this Jeep.” Unfortunately, Nathan was overcome by a seizure before he could do so, and the next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital unaware of what had transpired. He only learned afterward that he had lost consciousness and that his SUV had left the road, traveling through an empty parking lot as well as a gas station—narrowly missing the pumps—before crashing into a telephone pole. Had it not been for the telephone poll, Nathan would have careened onto a busy street. “That was my wake up call,” Nathan says. “When that happened, that was low point for me.” Since the accident, Nathan has strictly adhered to his medication regimen in order to prevent anything similar from happening again. He realizes that he was fortunate to escape major injury or possibly an even worse outcome.
In a testament to how Nathan enjoys “the idea of challenges” and how he sees them as opportunities and not roadblocks, on the one year anniversary of the accident, he ran the Savannah Marathon proving to himself that he can accomplish any goal for which he strives. He also realized that although he might not be the type that would be able to get up on a stage to spread awareness for epilepsy, he instead could to become an advocate by tapping into his athletic ability. In support of this goal he launched a Facebook page called “SEIZ ure LIFE” in order to support the epilepsy community after deciding he could be a vehicle for change in how epilepsy is treated and perceived. To help accomplish this he is currently aiming to raise $5,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation by the time he runs in the Philadelphia Marathon on November 17th. The timing of the event not only coincides closely with with the second anniversary of his accident but it is also in the middle of National Epilepsy Awareness Month. Furthermore, Nathan hopes to make this an annual event and continue the advocacy he has successfully begun.
Nathan has also created his own ‘SEIZ ure Life’ shirt that he wears during races that allows him to be an advocate during events. Often times the shirt can start a discussion about epilepsy and help others who may not know much about epilepsy to understand the condition. Additionally it can begin conversations with those who have a loved one with seizures or who have epilepsy themselves. He recounts a particular incident during an 18.6 mile trail run in May when he was wearing the shirt, and several miles into the run a doctor who was also running caught up with him after noticing his shirt. She spoke about about a patient she treated who was having seizures and about how much research is still needed when it comes to understanding epilepsy.
Doctors and Treatment
Nathan’s first seizure caught him completely by surprise. He explains that he was just “sitting on the couch, doing [his] taxes.” And then he had a tonic-clonic seizure. When he regained consciousness, EMTs were surrounding him and he was stiff and confused. At that point “it was totally new to me,” he says. Nathan had only a passing familiarity with epilepsy. Within six months he had another seizure and it was at this point he had a neurological CT scan and saw a specialist. He was put on a low dose of medication which was fortunately able to control his seizures. He now follows his medication schedule strictly.
Tips, Tricks and Advice
Nathan acknowledges that “as common as [epilepsy] is, most people don’t know what it is.” That is why Nathan has chosen to face the challenges of epilepsy head on by being open about the condition. He accomplishes this by explaining the varying facets of epilepsy and how to react to a seizure with the people in his life, from his family and friends to the employees at the financial services company he manages.
For other people living with epilepsy, Nathan advises that they “should not let it shut them down—you can’t stop living.” As evidenced by his tireless advocacy for epilepsy and his attitude towards not letting challenges get in the way of what he wants to accomplish, Nathan clearly lives by his own advice.