Feb 232004
 
Authors: Jesse McLain

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

anybody.”

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

seizure.”

Jill still has a strong reaction even after witnessing many of

Matt’s seizures.

“I get physically ill every time he has one because it is so

intense,” Jill said. “Its very scary to see a Grand mal

seizure.”

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

unaware.

“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

anything.”

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