Janesville woman dispels myths about epilepsy

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, May 12, 2014

JANESVILLE—Linda Newman got spanked by her parents for daydreaming as a child.

When she continued to blank out for seconds at a time, they sought medical help.

“They took me to every kind of doctor there was,” Newman said. “A pediatrician in Milwaukee discovered I had epilepsy.”

The doctor put her on a special high-fat, low-carb diet that helps control seizures in some people. Newman ate a stick of butter and more than a cup of cream daily for more than three years.

Today, the 64-year-old Janesville woman takes medicine to control her seizures. She drives, has a family and leads a busy life. She knows firsthand how misunderstanding can make life harder for someone with epilepsy and works to dispel myths about the illness.

“There is not enough awareness about the disease,” Newman said.

Epilepsy is a neurological condition which can affect a person's consciousness, bodily movements or sensations for a short time. Anyone can develop the disease. Some people have more severe seizures and cannot work. Others are successful in a broad range of careers.

Newman encourages people with epilepsy to get support.

“I want to let them know that they cannot live locked away in their living rooms because they have epilepsy,” Newman said. “The epilepsy foundation exists to help them.”

She refers to the Epilepsy Foundation Heart of Wisconsin in Janesville, which has a new support group. Newman is a member of the foundation's board of directors.

She works especially hard to raise money to help children with epilepsy attend a special summer camp in Rosholt.

“It's so important that kids get away,” Newman said. “They need a break from their families. They need the freedom to play, laugh and giggle on their own. But often their families cannot afford to send them.”

Jeanne Thompson, program director of the Epilepsy Foundation Heart of Wisconsin, explains that the camp is staffed by specially trained counselors. Children at the camp dance and take part in a ropes course and other educational activities.

“The camp empowers them to do things that they are unable to do at home,” Thompson said. “It is so important for them to experience the same things that everyone else does.”

A big part of her job is serving clients and families in the areas of employment, safety and socialization. She also provides public education about epilepsy.

“Every time I speak, someone will say something incorrect about how to help someone with a seizure,” Thompson said. “You never put anything in their mouths, nor do you hold a person down.”

Instead, gently turn a person onto his or her side to keep the airway clear, and stay with the person until the seizure ends naturally.

Thompson is available to talk about epilepsy.

“All you have to do is call,” she said. “As hard as we work at it, we still find lack of awareness.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com




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