Joshua Pruitt is not sure what all the fuss is about.
All he did was have a few educational events at his school, St. Johns River Community College, and start a community walk in his Lake Asbury neighborhood to increase public awareness about epilepsy, a condition that has impacted his life since he was 6.
But he will.
On May 20 he will receive the Clayton Feig Youth Award at the Walk the Talk for Epilepsy fundraiser at Jacksonville’s Metropolitan Park. The walk is one of eight sponsored by the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida to benefit the 400,000 people in the state live who with epilepsy.
Pruitt appreciates the recognition but said the important thing is educating the public about epilepsy, a chronic neurological condition marked by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Many people are unfamiliar with the condition and have no idea how to help someone while they are having a seizure or in the aftermath, he said.
For the person affected, he said, “It’s horrible.”
A need to know more
Pruitt had his first seizure as a child after complaining of a headache. His mother, Kerrie Pruitt, gave him some children’s Tylenol and put him down for a nap. When she tried to wake him, his eyes were rolled to the side and he wouldn’t move.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “When my husband grabbed him, Joshua went stiff and I called 9-1-1.”
At the time, the family lived in Texas. He spent the night in a children’s hospital, but doctors could not determine the cause of the seizure and sent him home. A few days later, Pruitt suffered four back-to-back grand mal seizures, which are marked by a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. After another trip to the hospital, he was put on epilepsy medication.
An epilepsy diagnosis is given when a person experiences two or more seizures that cannot be attributed to another cause, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
“I still had no idea what epilepsy was or how he got it. I just didn’t know anything and felt at a loss,” Kerri Pruitt said.
When Pruitt was 10 the family moved to Florida and met with a neurologist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville. He had had no recent seizures, so he was taken off the medication “because sometimes kids grow out of them,” she said. Doctors said subsequent dizzy spells were unrelated.
For the next 12 years, he had no seizures and had an MRI and checkup every six months. But the dizzy spells continued and worsened in number and strength, Kerri Pruitt said, and at age 19 he had another grand mal seizure.
“It was crazy,” she said. “You can’t help your child. … You’re waking up praying he’s still alive. I still do now.”
After visits to St. Vincent’s HealthCare and Mayo Clinic, doctors still could not determine the origin of his seizures. His doctors then suggested a responsive neurostimulator implant, which “automatically monitors brain signals and provides stimulation to abnormal electrical events when it is needed,” according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
That’s when Kerrie Pruitt started studying everything she could find on epilepsy and discovered a lifeline — the Epilepsy Foundation.
“They gave me so much information on epilepsy and other websites that could possibly help,” she said.
At that point, her son was in college. When he had seizures there, several people helped him, but he realized public awareness about epilepsy was lacking.
“There were so many people asking us questions. Realizing something needed to be done to raise awareness, Joshua had a couple of do-it-yourself events at the school,” Kerri Pruitt said. “As I would speak to people about Joshua’s situation, I found more and more people not knowing anything about epilepsy or how to help someone that may need help.”
So last year the Pruitts founded the Seizure Smart Talk 5k Run/Walk as a fun event and an opportunity to distribute information about epilepsy. The second annual event will be Nov. 11 at Lake Asbury Junior High School.
Joshua Pruitt said he is “doing great” now. The responsive neurostimulator has been implanted and will soon be activated. Meanwhile, he works at a Lowe’s store and continues his advocacy.
“I have a chance to help other people,” he said.
Courage and character
The Epilepsy Foundation of Florida has several memorials for Clayton Feig, an 18-year-old South Florida man who died in 1993 of complications from the disease. During his lifetime, Feig “demonstrated courage and strength of character” dealing with the condition, said Karen Basha Egozi, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida.
The Clayton Feig Legacy Fund supports several foundation programs for children with epilepsy. The annual awards are given to youth in each of the foundation’s eight Walk the Talk regions who has shown Feig’s brand of courage and character, she said.
“Joshua is the epitome of this award and we’re so grateful for his bravery in not only facing this disorder but serving as an advocate and raising awareness,” Basha Egozi said. “This is critical because of the stigma and misunderstandings that are commonly associated with epilepsy.”