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Seizure Soldiers to enlighten others about epilepsy

By Don Fennell

Published 11:26 PDT, Thu August 29, 2019

Last Updated: 11:54 PDT, Thu August 29, 2019

Marika Lopez deals with the unknown every day.

Marika Lopez deals with the unknown every day.

She has no choice.

Experiencing her first seizure at 18 months, then being diagnosed with epilepsy at age three, the Richmond teen must be constantly be aware of her health.

The Grade 12 Hugh Boyd Secondary student also has had to face ignorance surrounding the condition, the fourth most common neurological disorder that affects people of all ages. Public misunderstanding of epilepsy causes challenges arguably worse that the seizures themselves.

But Lopez is a fighter. And not prone to giving up. With the help of friend Danielle Cosco, whom she met last school term in a local youth parliament club, she is bravely moving forward--and determined to be a voice for epilepsy and others similarly battling the ailment.

"My goal is to raise awareness and educate others about the difficulties, while also trying to establish an accepting attitude toward epilepsy," says Lopez.

Lopez and Cosco (a first year University of BC psychology student) are striving to increase awareness by launching Seizure Soldiers. They recently held an information session at the Richmond Public Library Aug. 20.

"It is my hope that through this mission, it will also inspire others who face similar obstacles to start speaking up and sharing their stories," says Lopez. "We need to begin the necessary conversations."

Unfortunate "joking" about epilepsy, brought about by a lack of understanding, convinced Lopez to take action.

"I decided enough is enough, we need to talk about this," she says. "I'm hoping we can do a lot more. A lot of people in Canada—0.6 per cent of population—about 180,000 people—have epilepsy, but there's no voice here in Richmond. I want to be that voice."

Cosco says although the regional branch of the BC Epilepsy Society has been nothing but helpful, considerably more efforts are necessary to educate people.

"There's not enough education and awareness," she says. "Speaking with some friends and family, few us knew what epilepsy was or how it affects the daily life of someone like Marika. Even putting up a poster in elementary or high schools would make a difference. It's more common that people realize but there's not enough talk about it. That's why it's not understood, or misunderstood."

Lopez describes epilepsy as the "invisible illness."

"Sometimes you can see a person with cancer going to chemo, but if you look at me you wouldn't think I have epilepsy or seizures. Any number of things can cause low blood sugar and cause a seizure. And there's no cure. You can brain surgery if no other part of your body is affected, but not many do that. A lot, like me, hope medications work out."

An ongoing concern for Lopez is how few people recognize a seizure, or what to do to help.

"It's being taught in First Aid, but not really enforced," she says. "If someone is having a seizure helping is very simple. Turn the person on their side and let the seizure happen, and try to reassure them by saying their name and that 'you're O.K.' If it lasts more than five minutes, be sure to call for an ambulance."

Seizures can come on unexpectedly, too. But stress, common among students especially when facing a test, can increase the likelihood. And Lopez says anyone can have a seizure, even if they've been otherwise healthy.

"Basically it's a malfunction of the messages being sent to the brain," she says. "It's a short circuit if you like. And once you've had a seizure there are high chances of having another one."

Adds Cosco; "In 60 per cent of cases, the cause is unknown."

Lopez says it's also been frustrating having to explain to teachers, and others, that while she may seem fine physically after a seizure, she's often still recovering mentally.

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