Thursday 25 December 2014

'I was 18, and I didn't know anything about epilepsy. Then I had a seizure'

Today is European Epilepsy Day. Rachel Lynch, who was diagnosed five years ago, tells Kathy Donaghy how she manages her condition

Rachel Lynch. Photo: Brian Arthur
Rachel Lynch. Photo: Brian Arthur

Rachel Lynch was having the time of her life. At 18 she was in her first year in college doing a course she loved and was enjoying her first taste of freedom living away from home.

The eldest of four children, Rachel was at home in Carrigaholt, west Clare, for a weekend with her family in 2009 when her life changed irrevocably after she suffered her first ever seizure.

Rachel had been drinking a cup of tea. She remembers feeling faint but nothing after that until she woke up in an ambulance. Her dad filled in the blanks – she had gone into seizure for two minutes. For her parents, Mary and Richard, it seemed like the longest two minutes of their lives.

Over the next months, Rachel underwent a battery of tests and scans. There was no history of epilepsy in the family, and it was six months before doctors would make the diagnosis that Rachel was suffering from the neurological condition that affects one-in-115 people in this country or 37,000 people over the age of five.

In more than half of all cases, no cause can be found.

However, scans showed a small bump on the base of Rachel's spine that had been there since birth. This small cluster of cells was the cause of the epilepsy.

Rachel says while it was reassuring to know there was a reason, at first she did not cope very well with the diagnosis fearing that the life she was planning would have to change.

"It was such a shock to me – I had no symptoms. It literally happened one day. I had heard of epilepsy but I didn't know anything about it," she says.

"When I woke up after the first seizure, I was completely out of it for about a week. I had never experienced tiredness like it before. I could be talking to someone and I would just drop off."

This continued for the first couple of months after the seizure, although she didn't experience any other symptoms.

After the diagnosis, a drug regime was put in place for Rachel and after initially taking two weeks off college, she returned to her studies.

She suffered four other seizures in 2009. Rachel says that after each episode – which were of varying severity – she'd come around feeling very upset and emotional, and would feel intensely tired for days afterwards.

To date, Rachel has suffered around 20 seizures but hasn't had one since last July.

She remains positive, believing that the condition shouldn't stop people from following their dreams. She thinks that fear or ignorance mean that people are not more understanding of the condition and don't know what to do if someone has a seizure.

Because the condition is manageable with the right medication, she is keen to point out that employers should not be concerned about employing someone with epilepsy.

Over time, Rachel has learned to recognise the signs that let her know a seizure is coming. "The only sensation I can compare it to is like the start of a panic attack. I take a deep breath and go into a quiet corner. The tablets I'm on at the minute will not let a seizure happen if they are taken properly," she says.

While she's never experienced any discrimination, Rachel feels there's a huge lack of understanding about epilepsy.

Irish Independent

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