AS International Epilepsy Day approaches on Monday, February 13, Niamh Watson from Termon, who has epilepsy, told the Donegal News this week, that education on how to care for someone having a seizure, is vitally important.
Niamh, who is 24, has not allowed her condition to define her or hold her back and with the encouragement of her Mum Rose, she has got her degree, is working in the caring sector she loves and is now learning to drive.
Niamh works in the disabled sector but she also works as an Education Officer with the Rape Crisis Centre, going around schools teaching about consent.
She explained that her epilepsy first affected her when she was 12 years old.
“When I was younger you would have thought I was day-dreaming a lot. It was not until I had my first seizure that those day-dreaming periods could have been what is called an absence seizure. My first seizure when I lost consciousness was when I was 12. I was at the age of puberty and they thought possibly it was triggered by hormonal changes. I was also in the process of changing from primary to secondary school.
“At that stage I was having a lot of seizures every day but I was not diagnosed until I was 13. Tests were coming back unclear as I was not having seizures when I was linked up to the test machine so they were unsure initially. I was started on medication and it began to work and the seizures stopped for a few years,” she explained.
While preparing for her mock exams in the leaving cert her seizures returned. It was a time of extreme tiredness and stress for her and she was having multiple seizures a day.
“I was taken into Letterkenny University Hospital and after a week with changed medication and the care of my neurologist, things began to settle”.
There is no history of epilepsy in Niamh’s family so a genetic reason for it was ruled out. Sometimes a brain injury can cause it, but that was also eliminated. The reason for her onset could not be pin-pointed.
“When I started secondary school it wasn’t nice to be having seizures in front of a crowd of people I didn’t know. My mother was great. She really got me out and made me do the things everyone else was doing. I was just like every other teenager.
“Agnes from Epilepsy Ireland would have already done work in my school, Coláiste Ailigh where there had been another student with epilepsy. They understood the condition. Other students in my class would have asked me what they should do if I had a seizure. They wanted to help. I was able to tell friends what to do and Agnes ran an event explaining the condition and what to do in the event of a seizure.
“It is really scary to watch someone having a seizure. If you are equipped with the knowledge of what to do it makes such a difference,” she said.
Niamh has now been seizure free for almost three years thanks to the medication and is enjoying that freedom.
When she and boyfriend Ciaran got together he talked to Rose to find out how he should cope in the event of a seizure. Just as well, as when Niamh was doing her leaving cert she had a breakthrough seizure and Ciaran coped admirably. He did not panic and remembered the three important rules – time the seizure – if it is going on too long call an ambulance. Niamh stresses that everyone is different and you might not know their history so it is better to call an ambulance. Ensure the person is safe. If they are hitting against something hard put a cushion or jumper between them and the object to protect them. The third most important element is to stay with them. Niamh stressed that despite old advice to the contrary, never put something in the mouth of the person having the seizure.
“International Epilepsy Day is about getting that information out to a wider public on how to cope when someone has a seizure. There is such a fear surrounding it. We need to reduce the stigma. It is one of a whole range of conditions people get on and live their lives with.
“It has not held me back in any shape, form or fashion. I try to live life to the fullest. It does not limit my life and that is because of the attitude of the people around me not least my brother and sister, Aoife and Eoin,” Niamh added.
Apart from really enjoying her work having graduated from ATU with a degree in Health and Social Care, she loves to travel. Last year alone she travelled to Madrid, London, Paris, volunteered in Bali and saw Croatia.
Paddy McGeoghegan head of Advocacy and Communications with Epilepsy Ireland said International Epilepsy Day is about “making seizure first aid general knowledge among the public”.
Some 45,000 people in Ireland have epilepsy and an estimated 1,500 of these live in Donegal.
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