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Home Real Life: Epilepsy-I use to have Seven Seizures a Day

Real Life: Epilepsy-I use to have Seven Seizures a Day

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To mark Epilepsy Awareness Week, Olivia Coughlan tells Gemma O’Doherty how she finally overcame the illness which blighted her childhood
For almost 30 years, epilepsy played havoc with Olivia Coughlan’s life. One day, when she was six months’ old, she started shaking uncontrollably in her mother’s arms. By the time she began school, she was having up to seven seizures a day.

“I always knew when the fits were coming but there was nothing I could do,” she recalls.

“They’d start off with a desperate pain in my stomach, then I’d see stars in my eyes, and pins and needles would shoot down my arms and hands. Then, the blackout came. It was terrifying. I used to wish myself dead.”

Growing up in Waterford, Olivia found herself the victim of schoolyard slurs.

“They would call me schizo and I got a terrible mocking in class. I tried my best to keep it from people but it’s not something you can hide when the ambulance is arriving at the school gate to pick you up all the time. One day I bit through a nun’s finger in the playground during a fit. I never knew what was coming next.”

Between seizures, Olivia found it impossible to focus on her schoolwork and spent her time daydreaming through class. She was also on a cocktail of drugs as doctors struggled to stabilise her condition.

“I think, like many people with severe epilepsy, I just went into a world of my own,” she says. “I was put on dozens of tablets, so half the time I was drugged going into school. The side effects were brutal. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t concentrate on anything.”

As Olivia got older, the seizures intensified.

“I remember one day we were at a Beat in the Street gig and a laser beam caught my eye. I had a ferocious seizure and stopped breathing. Luckily my brother was there and called an ambulance just in time.”

“After that, I got to a point where I thought I would have to end it all.”

Most Irish people affected by epilepsy can control their symptoms with anti–epileptic drugs (AEDs), but Olivia couldn’t. Her only chance of a normal life was to undergo radical brain surgery.

Struggle: Olivia Coughlan, pictured with her son Aaron, underwent radical brain surgery to stop her epileptic seizures Struggle: Olivia Coughlan, pictured with her son Aaron, underwent radical brain surgery to stop her epileptic seizures
Five years ago, when she was 27, her consultant at Beaumont Hospital suggested operating to remove the abnormal tissue on her brain that was causing her seizures.

Olivia left hospital nine days after the surgery and hasn’t looked back since. In five years, she has not had one seizure. Today, the mother–of–one is planning to make up for her lost years and go back to school.

“Epilepsy is just a memory for me now. I would say to anyone who gets the chance, to go for surgery. I know it sounds frightening, but look at me! I can drive. I can read a whole book. I’m planning to go to night school. Today I have the life I used to dream about.”

Source: www.independent.ie

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