BULLHEAD CITY — For many people living with epilepsy, it can take a toll on their life, even stopping it in right in its tracks.
For Bullhead City resident Jeanne Phelps, living with the disorder can become a teaching tool for others when it comes to spreading the word about epilepsy, and that is exactly what Phelps has done. Phelps has begun incorporating medical information and social media to help spread the word about the disorder during Epilepsy Awareness Month, which is recognized nationwide in November.
“I was 27 years old when I was finally diagnosed, but I think I have had the disorder since I was a child,” said Phelps.
Phelps had her first known seizure in 1976 while in the U.S. Air Force. During a routine warm-up she had a convulsion, blacked out and woke up in a hospital room.
“I didn’t understand what had happened. The doctor came in said I had a seizure but didn’t bother to explain to me what it was exactly,” Phelps said. “I was released from the hospital and given a 30-day supply of Dilantin (a medicine given to treat seizures). As I got released from the hospital I was also discharged from the Air Force the same day my squad was graduating,” said Phelps, who was in tears that day because wasn’t getting to graduate.
With a medical discharge from the Air Force and an unknown disorder, Phelps’ future was up in the air.
“I didn’t know what to do or where to go from there,” she said. “When I finally finished the medicine a month later and was no longer having episodes, I thought to myself I was finally cured. I was wrong.”
During a stay in Dallas, with a friend, Phelps had another seizure episode while traveling in a friend’s vehicle on a busy highway.
“My friend told me I tried to get out of the vehicle as it was going about 75 mph. She didn’t know what to do and was thankful when I just slid to the floorboard and began seizing,” Phelps said. “When it was over, we knew something was terribly wrong with me and it needed to be diagnosed. My denial time was over.”
Phelps received medical treatment at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and had to move in with family due to the extent of her disorder. For 10 years, she was on a “merry-go-round” of drug treatment with doses being changed close to every six months.
“I couldn’t work, couldn’t drive, I felt my life had been taken from me,” she said.
When Phelps turned 36, she headed back into the workforce and was driven daily by her brother-in-law. Three weeks later, Phelps met her future husband and was married a year later. Phelps’ medication was changed once more to a newer pill, called Phenobarbital, to treat her seizure disorder and after a short time , she was seizure free.
“I took my medicine daily, never missed a dose and later, was able to have our son,” Phelps said. “In my journey I learned that my sister, cousin and even daughter have been diagnosed with epilepsy but we have it under control thanks to a correct diagnosis and medicine treatment.”
Now Phelps focuses on the future and has become an advocate for others suffering from the disorder. Recently, she created a Facebook page to help spread awareness with daily postings, inspirational stories from other survivors and the latest news on treatments.
“I don’t drive much anymore. My husband usually does all the driving, so online is how I stay connected with others and help them,” said Phelps, who has been an avid researcher, adviser and supporter of WebMD for nearly 20 years. “There is help out there and at the click of a mouse. More then I had when I first was diagnosed.” added Phelps.
Epilepsy and seizures affect nearly 3 million Americans each year and approximately 200,000 new cases are reported each year. Epilepsy has been defined by medical professional’s as a neurological condition producing seizures that affect a variety of mental and physical functions. When a person suffers more than two seizures they are considered to have epilepsy.
November has been proclaimed nationwide as National Epilepsy Awareness Month and a new campaign “30 Days 30 Ways to Take Action” is already under way with the Epilepsy Foundation.
The campaign is geared to help bring more awareness to the disorder and provide information to those suffering from it.
“With today’s technology we can become more informed and help each other through this horrible disorder,” said Phelps. “I know this is what I am supposed to do, help others.”