The Man with the Matches

Epilepsy, Keppra, seizures, grand mal, aura, EEG. These words and many more are terms you wouldn’t hear unless you or a family member suffered from a neurological disorder. During the summer of 2011, life for my family was changed forever. It all began with a knock on my little brothers crib that woke my whole family. Inside the crib, my brother was seizing violently and no one knew how to help him. His look was scary. He was shaking, foaming at the mouth and his eyes were rolled so far back that you could see only white. At only eleven years old, experiencing this happen to my three-year-old brother was traumatic. After countless visits to doctors and hospitals, we were finally told that my brother had epilepsy. Though this information was life altering, it was also eye opening.  

From a young age, science, especially learning about the human body, has been my favorite. I always wanted to work in medicine but I was never sure what kind until this happened to my brother. After being introduced to Michael’s diagnosis, which turned into my family’s diagnosis, my fascination with the brain began and I knew that I wanted to end my baby brother’s suffering. Instead of watching him wear his preschool graduation cap, he was wearing wires and cotton around his head for countless EEG’s. When you experience something like this, you realize how much is still unknown about something that controls our life. Since I was introduced to epilepsy, I have researched and became educated to see if its possible to understand this larger than life idea.

As my family adapted to dealing with Michael’s life changing diagnosis, we met Doctors Steven Wolf and Patricia McGoldrick, both heads of neurology at hospitals in New York City. To most, they’re just doctors, but to my family and me they’re superheroes. In a time of crisis, they gave us comfort and knew how to help us every step of the way. After the initial diagnosis, we practically lived in the hospitals and doctor’s offices. Spending so much time with the doctors, we began to grow relationships with them. Though they were my brother’s doctors, they willingly became our teachers and helped us understand this complicated transition. Having doctors to rely on made the adjustment so much easier. They were able to turn even the hardest, most scientific expressions into layman’s terms, helping even Michael understand. They simplified epilepsy into this story: 

A man is in the woods with a box of matches. The woods represent your brain and the matches represent your chances of having a seizure. Nine out of every ten times the man strikes a match, it doesn’t light, and the fire burns out representing a jerk, tremor or “spike” on your EEG. The other one out of ten times the match is lit, the fire ignites and spreads burning down the woods symbolizing a grand mal seizure ripping through your brain and therefore leading to epilepsy. 

Though these words were hard to hear, they strengthened our knowledge of something we knew so little of in the beginning. Along with making it easier to understand, Doctors Wolf and McGoldrick noticed my budding interest in following their footsteps in learning about my brothers disease. They would let me sit in on appointments and answered all my questions. They aided me in making one of the biggest decisions of my school career, committing to studying neuroscience.

Today, Michael is eleven-years-old and doing as well as any other 6th grade student in his class. We are closer than ever and we share a bond that most siblings will never experience. His progress has not only been remarkable but has given my family the hope we originally lost when we first found out about his disorder. Seeing him thrive regardless of the challenges he has faced has pushed me to not only study to help him but also help other children so that their families feel the same way mine does everyday.

Image result for what to do during a seizure

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