Jessica’s seizures forced her to give up driving, and to take leave from her teaching career. But just last year, Jessica had brain surgery to stop her seizures, and the future looks bright. Today, she devotes herself to her job with the Epilepsy Foundation Northwest, and to helping others overcome the challenges of epilepsy.
Jessica wrote the following article to share her experiences with epilepsy and about her recent brain surgery.
Growing up, seizures were something I had seen in movies, something they taught about in school and something I never thought would become a part of my life. That all changed, however, in June 1995. While camping in Georgia with several friends, I had a tonic clonic (formerly known as grand mal) seizure. Because this was my first seizure ever, my friends took me to the hospital. The doctors told me that the seizure had been caused by dehydration and fatigue, and to let them know if I had any more seizures.
Fortunately I did not for many years. I was able to graduate from high school and start college at Vanderbilt University. However, during my freshman year I began to have what was eventually diagnosed as simple partial seizures. Up to 20 times a day I would start blinking rapidly and hear strange noises. These seizures were often brought on by loud sounds such as airplanes flying overhead or starting a hair dryer. After several tests including PET scans, MRIs, CAT scans, EEGs, etc., I was diagnosed with epilepsy. After trying several different medications, I finally discovered that Lamictal could help to control my seizures.
Though I had seizures off and on, I graduated college in 2001 and drove across the country to start teaching second grade in Seattle, WA. I was not going to let Epilepsy stop me—I had wanted to be a teacher since I was eight years old.
Things went well for several years. I had the occasional seizure now and then, but for the most part they were under control. I continued to teach elementary school and got married. Then in 2010, my medication became less effective and the seizures came back. They were much more frequent and much more debilitating. I had to take a medical leave from teaching, and I was no longer able to drive. The seizures were causing me to miss out on a lot of activities that I had previously enjoyed. Lack of sleep was still a trigger, but even making sure to get enough sleep did not always help. Increasing my medication was not successful, either. Having clusters of seizures every eight to ten days became very frustrating and difficult to live with.
I decided in May 2012 that it was time for a change. I made an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ for some very invasive testing to see if I was a candidate for surgery. I checked into the hospital on July 11, 2012. During the first procedure they implanted EEG electrode probes in my brain. They then waited for me to have seizures. After eight days the doctors decided they had enough data and were confident that the focal point of my seizures was on my right temporal lobe. On July 19, 2012 I had my right temporal lobe removed.
A year later, I am thrilled to say that I am seizure-free. I did not return to teaching, but I am working for the Epilepsy Foundation Northwest. It has been such a joy to be able to spread seizure awareness to the Northwest, as well as to offer support to people going through struggles similar to the ones I experienced.
Throughout the years, and especially over the past year, I have been overwhelmed by the love and support of so many people in my life. I will be forever grateful to my parents, sister, and husband for their always being there to help. They were right by my side every step of the way. I could list a hundred other people who offered me tremendous support, as well. And, of course, I am deeply grateful for the skilled doctors, nurses and surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ.
To all those people affected by epilepsy in some way—do not give up. We can be filled with hope, because technology is advancing, medications are improving and epilepsy is finally coming out of the shadows.