After years of being monitored and restricted because of epilepsy, 31-year-old, Gail Simpson was able to live a seizure-free life for over 12 years through the help of multiple neurologists who prescribed her a life-changing drug.
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders of the brain that affects people of all ages.
For Simpson, her experience with epilepsy resulted in her living a restrictive life during her formative years because she was being constantly monitored should an epileptic attack occur. Living with epilepsy has also prevented her from obtaining gainful employment.
She has been living with epilepsy for 28 years after being diagnosed at the age of three with absence seizures. An absence seizure is a condition that causes persons with the disease to stare into space or even blank out.
She was later diagnosed with tonic-clonic seizures which involve both the stiffening and jerking of muscle activity.
“During those formative years of my life, I was having seizures multiple times a day every day, and
being on medication I would have gone to pre-school sleeping for the entire day until my parents
came to pick me up.
I could not enjoy the things that every child would have wanted to do for example swimming and riding a bicycle. I could not even grasp phonetic skills at that age. I was there just existing during all this period. I am constantly monitored and reminded of my condition if I should divert from the norm,” she said.
As Simspon transitioned into her teenage years, her main struggle was trying to find her identity and taking up space in the world.
“I remember in 2005, in high school that was where the real struggle started because I was trying to find my identity. That was when I started to blossom into a young lady, becoming conscious and finding my place in the world. I just wanted to be part of what other girls my age were doing- the social life, career, and even getting a driver’s licenses,” she said.
Simpson shared that she still cannot get her driver’s license today because of her medical condition. The Jamaica Road Traffic Act prohibits the granting of a driver’s license to persons with any disease or physical disability which may cause any danger to the public.
She went on to say: “The most terrifying experience for me was in 2006 when I had “status epilepticus’ at age 14 where I spent seven days in the hospital under close monitoring. During this time, I lost my memory temporarily which affected my family so badly,” Simpson said.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, status epilepticus refers to a seizure that involves abnormal electrical activity in the brain affecting both the mind and the body.
Although Simpson still suffers from the neurological condition, the help from several neurologists allowed her to live a somewhat normal life for 12 years.
“My case has drawn a lot of attention in the medical field, having several neurologists requesting to be a part of the decision making which was led by Dr Amza Ali. At age 17 I weighed 205 pounds. However, with careful research and a trial of meds by my neurologist to find the most suitable combination for my seizure which I am currently on is Lamictal, Topamax, and Folic Acid,” she added.
“I then became seizure-free for 10 years, lost all my weight, gained my self-confidence, and was still managed by medication and trying to ‘catch up’ in life by trying to do things that I had never done before and what everyone and young lady would want to experience,” an optimistic Simpson added.
Thirty-one-old Simpson is now defying the odds, by becoming her own boss and is using her voice as a tool to spread awareness about the condition.
“Persons living with the condition can live a normal life living with the condition. Epilepsy is not contagious. It is a non-communicable neurological disorder,” she said.
Simpson is a member of the Jamaica Epilepsy Association and has been volunteering and advocating for persons living with the condition.
“There are many myths out there about epilepsy, however, epilepsy is a part of you. I have learned to come to terms with the condition. I am hoping and praying that one day, doctors out there will find a cure, so we can have freedom, but we just have to continue spreading awareness,” she said.