Balla woman Brenda Quigg was fast asleep and completely unaware when she had her first and only ‘grand mal’ epileptic seizure two and a half years ago.
“I woke up to find three paramedics in my room and my husband looking on with his hands on his head,” she remembers.
But as far back as 2009, although it was the last thing she suspected at the time, Brenda had been suffering the warning signs that she had epilepsy - sudden onslaughts of intense, crippling nausea; incredibly vivid and strong waves of deju vu; and a brief incident of speech loss.
“I foolishly ignored it and thought it was just stress,” recalls Brenda.
It was only after her full nocturnal seizure that she ended up in front of a neurologist, who diagnosed her with left temporal lobe epilepsy.
“I told him, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. One seizure doesn’t mean epilepsy. But he said that the grand mal seizure was actually my 11th seizure. All of those things that had been happening to me were partial seizures from temporal left lobe epilepsy.”
The diagnosis changed her life.
As a palliative care nurse working with patients in the community, she could no longer drive and she had to change jobs.
After her diagnosis, Brenda also became much more aware about the stigma often attached to epilepsy.
The condition can make people nervous – probably because they are afraid they will not know what to do if the person has a seizure in their presence.
“I witnessed a seizure myself and it knocked the wind out of me,” says Brenda.
“A lot of people with epilepsy don’t want to talk about it because they do not wish to be treated any differently. Contrary to what many people might think about epilepsy, I have read that almost 70 per cent of people with epilepsy have seizure control with medication.”
This is what prompted Brenda to tell her own story ahead of International Epilepsy Awareness Day, which takes place on Monday next (February 9 ).
The day is aimed at raising awareness about epilepsy and educating people on the steps they should take if someone has a seizure – how to be ‘seizure aware’.
“I want people to know what they should do. It may never happen but it is good to tell people and dispel some of the myths around epilepsy and seizures. For example, the thing about putting something in someone’s mouth if they are having a seizure isn’t true.”
Instead, people should learn the TEAM acronym. T for ‘take care of the person’, E for ‘ensure you stay with them’, A for ‘allow the seizure to run its course’, and M for ‘move the person on to their side when the seizure is over’.
Irish Rugby head coach, Joe Schmidt, is helping to spread the TEAM message and there will be lots of advertisements featuring Mr Schmidt’s appeal to be seizure aware in the build-up to International Epilepsy Day.
Brenda has organised her own very special event to raise awareness on epilepsy locally.
She came up with a cycling event called Saddle Up for Epilepsy.
The event will see a throng of cyclists donned in ‘Saddle Up for Epilepsy’ jerseys take to their bikes en masse, to make a bright and colourful appeal for people to learn more about epilepsy and seizures.
“I am hoping it will make a big visual impact. At the back of it all, it is about sharing and supporting each other. For people with epilepsy, it is not just about the person, it is about their family, their friends, and their colleagues, everyone really.
“You are in the hands of the public when a seizure happens and it is about dispelling the myths and the stigma.”
The event, which is open to all cycling enthusiasts and anyone who wants to get involved in raising awareness for epilepsy, takes place at 9am on Valentine’s Day, Saturday February 14, starting and finishing at the Breaffy Resort Events Arena, Castlebar.
There are three route options - a 40km, a 80km, and a 120km – and a free jersey worth €50 for the first 200 entrants.
Register for the event online (costing €40 ) before February 11 on www.saddleupforepilepsy.com
Alternatively, register on the evening before (February 13 ) between 5.30 and 7.30pm at the Breaffy Resort Events Arena or on the morning of the event from 7.30 to 8.30am. This costs €50.
For more information on the Saddle Up For Epilepsy cycle, visit www.saddleupforepilepsy.com