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Workshop spreads epilepsy awareness

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(Jeff Engelhardt – jengelhardt@shawmedia.com)
Dr. Ammar Katerji (center) discusses epilepsy with local residents Sunday at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA.

DeKALB – Melissa Read did not receive her driver’s license until she was 30 years old.

Read’s delay had nothing to do with her ability to drive, but the spontaneous seizures she experienced as an epileptic. Now 37 with a family, Read is an advocate for those who suffer from epilepsy.

“It’s what I have, not who I am,” Read said of epilepsy. “We’re normal people like everybody else.”

The DeKalb Office of the Epilepsy Foundation and Kishwaukee Family YMCA presented a workshop Sunday titled “Seize Control: Take Charge of Your Life” for families with children who suffer from epilepsy and experience seizures.

Read was in attendance with her mother, Diane Helland, to help residents gain a better understanding of epilepsy and introduce them to resources available in the county.

Helland – who said epilepsy is not as taboo as it was when her daughter was young – gave parents advice on how to deal with the frequent seizures epilepsy brings.

“Back then we kept it a secret ... we didn’t want her to have that stigma,” Helland said. “But the best thing you can do is talk about it.”

Local experts such as Dr. Ammar Katerji discussed how to minimize the effects of seizures and provided parents with a better understanding of epilepsy that included different causes and treatments.

Katerji, who provides free services at the DeKalb Seizure Clinic the first Tuesday of every month, said between 60 percent to 70 percent of children can outgrow seizures through proper medication.

“We want the child, or adult, to lead a normal life,” he said. “Seizures can go away.”

Epilepsy is caused from changes in brain tissue that cause the brain to send out abnormal signals and often lead to seizures.

Epilepsy can be acquired at birth or from traumatic brain injuries or strokes.

In some cases, the frequency and intensity of seizures can decrease over time; for many, it is a lifelong condition.

Katerji said epilepsy could be combated through anti-convulsant medication, surgery and in some cases, diet changes.

Nancy Proesel, board member of the Epilepsy Foundation’s DeKalb affiliate, encouraged families to contact Kishwaukee Community Hospital’s epilepsy clinic at 815-756-8554.

“Further education is very important,” Proesel said. “The knowledge about how to control seizures and having a support group is very important.”

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