When some of Claudia Care’s schoolmates decided to make fun of her for her epilepsy last year, the student didn’t retreat from the teasing but instead decided to clear up some misconceptions about her illness through a public presentation to the students of then-William E. Hay Composite High School.
A year later, the 17-year-old Grade 12 student took her presentation to Stettler Elementary School, where she told the younger students about her life-long illness and what it means for her, and those around her.
The Wednesday, Feb. 10 presentation saw Care speak about epilepsy, a disease that causes her to suffer mild to grand mal seizures. She was diagnosed when she was only eight months old, and just celebrated her first stretch of six months without a seizure.
“I have so many triggers my neurologist doesn’t know what they all are,” Care explained. Her seizures can be triggered by heat, older CRT computer monitors, strobe lights, dehydration, and low blood sugar, to name a few.
The students who took in her presentation were curious and asked a lot of questions, questions Care said she was glad to answer.
“I felt it my responsibility to talk about epilepsy,” Care explained. “Some people with epilepsy don’t talk about it. They’re embarrassed, so no one knows anything about it.”
That’s something Care wants to see change, and some of the questions revealed how little people know about the disease.
“Can you die from it?” one student asked. Care later said the question shocked her, not because of how forward it was, but because it was a question no one had asked before.
The answer is both yes and no.
It’s not usually the seizure itself that kills someone with epilepsy, but rather what happens when someone has a seizure. They can fall, hitting their heads or tumbling down stairs. They can drown if they’re swimming or in a tub. If they’re driving, they can be in collisions.
They can also bite their tongues, Care said, saying that her neurologist knows people with epilepsy who have bitten off their tongue entirely during a grand mal seizure.
“When that happens, people can choke on their blood,” she said in an interview after the presentation. “And if you don’t put people in a recovery position, they can vomit and choke on that.”
In her life, Care said she’s had three or four close calls where epileptic seizures almost killed her, though she’s escaped major injuries.
Another question that stuck out to her was when a student asked if a person had to have epilepsy to have a seizure — the answer is no. Almost anyone can have a seizure, she said. Sometimes they are caused by medicine, or a head injury.
Care is now looking into getting a service dog. Some dogs appear to have the ability to sense a seizure is coming and can help warn their human before the seizure happens. Care usually has about two seconds warning before she has a seizure, which is not enough time to prevent herself from coming to harm.
“A service dog would help,” she said. “I’m graduating this year and I want to move out, and I can’t be alone.”
Her parents, who have worked with Care to ensure she has had as normal a life as possible, are encouraging her to experience living on her own.
“A dog would be necessary,” she said.