Join your neighbors on November 13 for Epilepsy Awareness Walk in Sunday Park

Posted October 10, 2011 at 4:06 PM, Filed Under: Community News, Front Page, Village Mill

Last year at the annual Richmond Epilepsy Awareness Walk, a teacher in attendance was shocked to learn from another teacher whose daughter has epilepsy, that a student experiencing an absence seizure frequently can be mistaken as daydreaming in the classroom.

“This is one example of what people can learn at the awareness walk,” says Long Shadow resident Wendy Parker, whose son’s seizures went undiagnosed for years. “Teachers thought Todd wasn’t paying attention in class,” says Parker, “when in fact, he was experiencing absence seizures with continual lapses in consciousness many times a day. Consequently, he was missing out on most of his school lessons.”

Absence seizures, like other types of seizures, are caused by abnormal nerve cell activity in the brain. “Todd was finally diagnosed with epilepsy after he had a grand mal seizure in middle school,” says Parker.

Once on medication, Todd’s seizures were under control and he lived a normal and productive life. He graduated from Clover Hill High School, volunteered as an EMT with Manchester Rescue Squad, went to college, got a job, lived on his own, and enjoyed hanging out with his friends, many of whom never knew he had epilepsy.

“In 2006, when Todd died suddenly at the age of 31 from no apparent cause, we were all devastated,” says Parker. A week after his death, Todd’s sister posted a question about sudden death on the Epilepsy Foundation website. A woman in Montana responded that her daughter had died in the same manner as Todd, due to SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy), a little known condition that accounts for approximately 18 percent of deaths in people with epilepsy.

“Even the medical examiner had never heard of SUDEP,” says Parker, “but he soon learned.” When she called her son’s neurologist and asked why he had never told her about SUDEP, he responded, “Because you wouldn’t have let him live a normal life.” Parker agrees that she may have become overprotective of her son, but she regrets not being told that one can die from SUDEP. “If you don’t know about something, you can’t do anything about it,” she says. She also regrets the time she lost in raising awareness and funds to find a cure for epilepsy and the cause of SUDEP. “I encourage everyone to learn about epilepsy,” says Parker, “because one in 10 people will suffer a seizure in their lifetime. It might be someone in your family.”

A Walk in Sunday Park

For the past three years, the Richmond Epilepsy Awareness Walk, a noncompetitive event in support of the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia (EFVA), was held in Deep Run Park. Because Brandermill residents made up the largest group of participants in the walks, EFVA Regional Director Fernando Cordero decided to move the walk to Brandermill. “Please come and join us at the Sunday Park Picnic Pavilion on Sunday, November 13 at 1 p.m. and make a positive difference in the lives of those who suffer from epilepsy,” says Cordero. “There will be free refreshments and entertainment for kids, as well as plenty of handouts and epilepsy awareness material.”

Prior to a brisk walk around the peninsula, participants are invited to gather at the pavilion to learn about epilepsy. Bon Secours Neurologist Dr. Stacey Epps will be on hand to dispel common myths associated with epilepsy, and VCU/MCV Pediatric Neurology Nurse Kathryn O’Hara will give a brief presentation on how to administer first aid to someone experiencing a seizure.

Those who wish to make a donation in memory of Todd Parker may make checks payable to the EFVA, noting on the check: “In memory of Todd Parker for SUDEP research.” Donations can be made at the walk or mailed to EFVA, P.O. Box 1533, Midlothian, VA 23113. For more information about the Epilepsy Awareness Walk, please call Cordero at 549-9875. For information about SUDEP, visit http://presidentscorner.cureepilepsy.org/2010/07/27/new-york-times-sudep.