Sunday 1 February 2015

'I found out I had driven into a pillar at a hotel'

Lindsay Sheridan's 'absences' were diagnosed as epilepsy. Surgery is offering hope

Lindsay Sheridan with her sons, Joe (4) and Harry (1). Surgery may hold the key to resolving her epilepsy
Lindsay Sheridan with her sons, Joe (4) and Harry (1). Surgery may hold the key to resolving her epilepsy

THIRTY-year-old IT recruitment consultant Lindsay Sheridan had a feeling that something had happened as she was leaving a car park on her way home after a particularly busy day.

She had been delivering corporate Christmas gifts to a hotel on her way home and was aware of hearing a loud noise as she was leaving, but was confused.

It had been a hectic 24 hours. Lindsay had put a lot of effort into preparing presentations for her clients. It was a stressful time and now she was feeling very tired. When she arrived home, she told her flatmate how she was feeling and went straight to bed.

Lindsay remembers now that earlier that day, a colleague had expressed concern about her behaviour just ahead of one of their client meetings. "As we walked in to the boardroom, my colleague asked me what had happened?" Lindsay recalls. "I don't know," she replied, and shrugged it off.

The next morning though, when she noticed that her car's front number plate was missing, she was alarmed and went to see her GP.

"I had been having episodes before that, but I didn't know what they were. It was just a dream-like sequence or something that happened every now and again. I know it sounds crazy, but I just wasn't sure what was happening," she says. "I found out that I had driven into a pillar at the hotel, which caused the damage."

The GP quickly diagnosed that she had epilepsy and said she wouldn't be driving home.This condition affects 40,000 Irish people who may get seizures or fall into a trance and can cause injury to themselves or others.

Like 40 per cent of sufferers, Lindsay experiences complex partial seizures that can involve blacking out as often as 12 times a day. These are often accompanied by uncoordinated hand and mouth movements. "When I come out I'm usually very confused and cannot remember what happened. The tiredness can be like chronic jet lag; like taking a flight to New Zealand and coming straight back," she explains.

She now recognises the signs that pre-empt her seizures. "I can get heightened memory recall; a very strong sense of déjà vu or a sense of being in a daydream. Other people get smells and tastes," Lindsay says.

Since her diagnosis, she has been on a variety of different drugs with varying dosages, coupled with visits to neurologists. Like most epilepsy sufferers, self-management is key to controlling the condition for Lindsay.

Reading her patterns of the disease and adjusting personal behaviours are essential, she says.

Epilepsy drugs may have many side effects. Lindsay's medications have caused her hallucinations and severe sleepiness. But, after four years, her condition stabilised and she was seizure-free and back driving again. Then she became pregnant.

Taking epilepsy medication during pregnancy is problematic. Mother and child are at increased risk of complications at birth and there can be problems in the behavioural and cognitive development of the child. It is very important that when a person who has epilepsy is planning to become pregnant, or is pregnant, they discuss their situation and their medications with their doctor.

When baby Joe was born four years ago, everything was fine – except Lindsay's condition worsened. After two years seizure-free, she was experiencing regular incidents and was off the road again.

This is delivered through outreach clinics with support from the regional centres. A number of these outreach clinics are already up and running, with more planned over the next two to three years. This is good for patients as they do not have to make the journey to hospital as frequently.

The outreach services use an Epilepsy Electronic Patient Record system to ensure continuity of care between primary care and hospital-based services. "Real-time access to patients' charts in an electronic form means I can share information with the patients and other care givers, including the GP, and this can be done immediately. Compared to before, there were often 24-hour delays and sometimes charts could be lost, so it's a major benefit of the programme," says Dr Doherty.

The programme has also radically reduced the waiting time for patients to see a specialist from around six months to four weeks through a network of Rapid-Access Seizure Clinics (RASC). This means that patients like Lindsay can get expert advice on how to manage their condition within a few hours by phone or by email.

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