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Living with epilepsy – “It doesn’t define me”

By Courtney Olson

kristine

A PILL A DAY: Kristin Baker takes medication in the morning and at night. If she skips out on taking them, she runs the risk of having a seizure. (Photo by Courtney Olson)

It was a normal night for 13-year-old Kristin Baker. She washed her face, brushed her teeth, went to bed and fell asleep. But when she woke up, she wasn’t the same.

Now a senior nursing student, Baker recalls her mom telling her that the family heard a noise coming from her bedroom that night. Her older sister went in to check on her. Baker was no longer breathing. Frantically, her parents dialed 911. When Baker woke up, she realized she was not in her bedroom — she was on a stretcher.

“I could feel myself being carried,” Baker said, “but I thought I was dreaming, and my mom said that the paramedics tried to put an oxygen mask on my face, and I was, like, pushing them away.”

By the time she reached the hospital, it was 10 p.m. She wasn’t released until 6 a.m.

“They did all of these tests and everything, and they were pretty sure it was a seizure,” she said.

The doctors told Baker that it was unlikely she would have another seizure, and that it was probably brought on because she was going through puberty.

“[The doctors] said, ‘Your body is changing so much it could be a one-time thing,'” she said. “I didn’t know that was a thing.”

Six months later, Baker experienced a second seizure, but the doctors said this could be just a “two-time occurrence” and to not worry too much about it.

“They said, ‘If it happens again, we’ll have to put you on medication,'” she said. “And then a month later, I had another seizure.”

After numerous tests, Baker was diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Baker has had five seizures since that night. Her last seizure was a year ago on Sep. 10, 2014, which is the longest she went without having an episode.

epislepsy-chart-1

GETTING THE FACTS: There are more cases of epilepsy that are unknown there are genetic. 1 in 26 people are diagnosed with this medical condition every day. (Chart by Courtney Olson, data from http://www.epilepsy.com)

According to Healthline.com, 2.5 to 3 million people in the United States have epilepsy, and 26 million people will experience reoccurring seizures. Baker is one of only a few students at the university and the only nursing student who has epilepsy.

Diane Shenefield, nursing professor, said she found out about Baker’s medical condition when she entered the nursing program her junior year, after the mandatory physical exam.

“We all know what to do if she has a seizure,” Shenefield said, “so it’s not an issue at all.”

Although Baker is the only one in the nursing class with epilepsy, she has “no limitations” when it comes to doing the assignments and activities expected of her.

Shenefield said that if there are any accommodations that need to be made in order for a student to be able to learn, the professors were willing to make them.

“Normally, we’ll just let the student take the lead,” she said. “We know what to do in case of an emergency.”

As far as limitations go in her every day life, Baker says she can do pretty much everything, but needs to be very aware of certain things — especially when it comes to her health and how much sleep she gets.

“I really have to be careful with my sleep,” she said. “I can’t just pull all-nighters just for the heck of it. I need to make sure I get at least eight hours.”

Along with getting enough sleep, Baker is also required to take medication twice a day and must make sure to eat at least three meals a day. When and if she has a seizure, driving a vehicle is prohibited for at least four weeks.

Devin Dale, Baker’s boyfriend of two years, says that Baker’s medical condition has no affect on their relationship, but has made him more aware of their surroundings. Baker has not yet had a seizure in front of her boyfriend, and he hopes that day will not come.

“I also have been told emphatically to never call 911,” Dale said. “That was surprising at first, but her and her family both said that her condition doesn’t warrant a trip to the ER unless she were to hit her head, for example.”

Even though having epilepsy is a part of her life, Baker refuses to let it define who she is, and it’s very common for her to joke around about her condition with her friends and family.

“The way she handles her condition, though, takes my fears away,” Dale said. “However, the first time she has one around me, I’ll probably be terrified. Fingers crossed that it won’t happen.”

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