April 6, 2016 – Jacksonville.com
One morning in January 2009, Margaret Gregory was getting ready to take her two children to school and then head to work, just like any other day.
Then, in an instant, the Jacksonville woman’s life changed forever.
She remembers waking up on the floor, her children crying and paramedics asking her strange questions.
Gregory, then 30, had suffered a grand mal seizure, which includes a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. Before the day was out, she would have 11 more seizures, be diagnosed with epilepsy and begin a 10-day hospital stay.
“I was so tired,” she said. “It feels like somebody has been shaking you.”
Seven years later, Gregory’s seizures are controlled by medication. She had to put on hold her career goal to become a pharmacist but has become an ambassador of sorts for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. She plans to participate in the foundation’s annual Walk the Talk for Epilepsy fundraiser Saturday at Jacksonville University.
The event will be one of nine walks statewide through April 17. The Jacksonville event is in memory of JT Rundle III, 10, who died in 2015 from what’s called Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy. He was the grandson of foundation board member Rick Rundle.
“This walk is particularly special,” the elder Rundle said. “Through this walk, and in JT’s memory, we hope the Jacksonville community can join us to help raise the critical funds and awareness necessary to help find a cure.”
Gregory is already doing her part.
She helps educate other patients about how to live with seizure disorders and the public about how to support people who have them. When she encounters people who worry that epilepsy is viral or can be transmitted, she corrects them.
But back in 2009, on the floor in her house, Gregory was in denial. Even in the mental fog after the first seizure, she knew no one in her family had ever had a seizure before and she was not going to be the first. She told the paramedics she did not have seizures.
“I could not understand what had taken place, I did not understand,” she said. “I kept telling them they were going to make me late for work.”
At UF Health Jacksonville, a myriad of tests were performed.
Grand mal seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity throughout the brain. Most stem from epilepsy, but some are triggered by other health problems, such as extremely low blood sugar, high fever or a stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic website. But in Gregory’s case no underlying health problem was found, and she was diagnosed with epilepsy.
The next few years were a blur.
In 2010 one seizure caused broken bones and other injuries and another occurred when she took her children to the Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta, Ga. She sustained second- and third-degree burns when she collapsed to the hot pavement, she said.
Because of the impact the seizures had on her brain, she had to re-learn how to do certain things. She could not spell but could read, she said, and “I know my trigonometry.”
Along the way, she has received critical support from her family, as well as the Epilepsy Foundation.
“They have been so helpful,” she said. “They are family-oriented and they have support groups.”
Since that first seizure, Gregory’s attitude toward her condition has evolved from denial to determination. At last year’s walk, she wore a T-shirt that proclaimed, “Epilepsy messed with the wrong chick.”
“It has been a pretty rough time,” she said. “But this is not going to get me down.”
WALK THE TALK FOR EPILEPSY
The walk begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at Jacksonville University, 2800 University Blvd. N. Jacksonville. Through Thursday, registration is $25 for adults, $15 for children age 12 and younger. Day-of registration begins at 8 a.m. and will be $35 for adults and $20 for children. There will a 5k route and an alternate route half that distance. The event will also feature a raffle, silent auction, DJ, photo booth, games, face-painting, henna, and bounce houses and an appearance by Miss Teen Jacksonville Joy Mayfield. To preregister or get more information go to bit.ly/1MbH5hf.
TO LEARN MORE
One in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy, a common neurological condition. The diagnosis is given when a person experiences two or more seizures that cannot be attributed to another cause. More people live with epilepsy than autism, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy combined. For more information contact the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida’s at 5209 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32207; (904) 731-3752, or go to efof.org. The Jacksonville office serves Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, St. Johns, and Volusia counties.