Nearly eight years ago on a drive to Elitch’s, then 12-year-old
Matt Chalupsky lost his best friend. The two didn’t have a
disagreement or an accident, but Matt had an epileptic seizure and
his friend was so terrified that he never spoke to Matt again.
“The eyes roll back in the head and you just shake
uncontrollably, it’s something that I would probably freak out if I
would see,” Matt said. “So I don’t really hold it against
Diagnosed shortly after birth, Matt is one of the 1.5 million
Americans to have been treated for epilepsy within the last five
years, according to epilepsy.com. Epileptics can have two different
types of seizures, partial or general. Perhaps the most widely
known type of epileptic seizure is the Grand mal, characterized by
convulsions and sometimes lack of consciousness.
“Those are the ones that people recognize but seizures can have
many different types,” said Edward Maa, third-year resident
neurologist for the University of Colorado. “It’s the subtle ones
that people may not know; they may involve starring, lip smacking,
loss of awareness or increased emotional sensation.”
Jill Chalupsky was devastated at her son’s diagnosis.
“I remember being frightened, there was intense sadness because
in my mind I knew what other people thought of epilepsy, it was
devastating,” Jill said. “Until we learned all the facts and how
common it truly was.”
Epilepsy diagnosis rates peak in the very young and the very
old, according to Maa. Many who were diagnosed at a young age
gradually becoming seizure free, Maa said.
Matt, who has been seizure-free for over two years, is still
constantly anticipating his next seizure and cannot participate in
normal college activities because of it.
“It definitely affects your social life, it limits what you can
and can’t do. I can’t do the normal college party stuff like
drinking and all that stuff,” Matt said, “because my doctors told
me if I did its not a matter of if I’ll have a seizure it’s a
matter of when. That’s one of my biggest fears, having one in a
large social place.”
Matt’s concern is common among epileptics.
“The fear of the next one affects them all the time,” Maa said.
“There is a pretty negative social stigma around epilepsy and
discrimination can occur when the public does witness a
Jill still has a strong reaction even after witnessing many of
“I get physically ill every time he has one because it is so
intense,” Jill said. “Its very scary to see a Grand mal
If society becomes more educated about epilepsy, fear may
diminish and the chances of someone ending up witnessing a seizure
and not knowing how to react are reduced.
“People don’t know how to respond. All you can do is make sure
they’re not in danger, put something soft under their head, make
sure nothing is in their mouth and try to turn them on their sides
if you can,” said Peter Van Haverbeke, director of public relations
for the Epilepsy Foundation. “We fear what we don’t know, and if
you don’t know what to do when someone has a seizure you can think
they are in danger.”
Since epileptics show no visible signs of their disorder unless
they are having a seizure, many times society may remain
“Unless someone is personally touched by epilepsy they may never
see it and it isn’t something people like to talk about,” Van
Haverbeke said. “There’s no question that there is discrimination
when it comes to employment and insurance.”
Although Matt has encountered many issues with discrimination he
holds no grudges and isn’t asking for sympathy.
“I’ve been asked before if I’m contagious. The only way you can
catch this from someone else is if they smash you over the head
really hard,” Matt said. “I would say that more than anything you
shouldn’t be afraid of it, but I’m not gonna go on a crusade or