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article imageRyan's Story: Living with epilepsy in hard times Special

By KJ Mullins     Jul 17, 2011 in Health
Toronto - Ryan's life changed quickly. A fight. A punch to the nose that could have killed him. Instead Ryan, still in his early 20's is dealing with frontal lobe epilepsy. The seizures have cost him two jobs.
Today Ryan was sitting in the hot sun at Toronto's Yonge Street and College Street trying for the third time in his life to get some money by panhandling. His sign, Epilepsy Sucks, intrigued me enough to ask him if we could talk.
Ryan didn't want his picture taken but he agreed to talk about how epilepsy has affected his life and what to do if you see someone having a seizure on the story.
Five years ago Ryan was in a fight. The other guy had him on the floor and head butted him in the nose. That blow could have easily taken Ryan's life, instead it left him coping with seizures. At first Ryan wasn't aware of what was happening. He'd go to bed and wake up with drool and wet pants. One night his girlfriend witnessed him having a seizure three years after that fight. A quick trip to emergency gave him the answer to what was wrong-frontal lobe epilepsy. There is a surgery that would take the risk of seizures away but it involves removing his nose. The cost of plastic surgery to repair his nose is not covered by Ontario's medical insurance program and is too much for this young man to pay.
His medications are also uncovered. He pays between $100 to $300 a month as the doctors search for the right pill combination to limit his seizures. Some of the medications have had some scary side effects Ryan said of his two years taking seizure medication.
"One of the pills I was on felt like I was on 'magic' mushrooms."
The medications do not stop all of Ryan's seizures. His last main stream job was at a Tim Horton's. During his shift he had a seizure while handing a customer a hot cup of coffee. He was fired.
Ryan's main career focus is music. He makes money as a busker much of the time but the seizures have affected the ability to do this as well. He was in the middle of a gig at a Toronto club when he had a seizure. He was asked not to return and blacklisted.
Because of the seizures Ryan has faced some brain damage, including short term memory loss. He is in the process of applying for disability but that takes time.
On Friday he tried panhandling.
"I felt ashamed but I needed the money."
Ryan said that the comments that he received from others has been positive. It's something that is positive for him. He's had negative experiences in the past.
"Once I had a seizure at Yonge-Dundas Square. While I was down a woman was waving a cross over me screaming to get the demons out. My friend, who was with me had to hold her back," Ryan said because of that and other public reactions "I didn't tell my friends about this condition. I didn't think they would understand."
Ryan has found that they do understand.
Ryan s signs
Ryan's signs
When asked what to do if you see someone having a seizure Ryan said to make sure that the area around them is cleared, turn them to their side if possible (if they are vomiting this is required) and to place something soft under their head. If the seizure lasts less than 5 minutes it is not necessary to call 9-1-1. Once the seizure has ended give the person some space to recover. If within 20 minutes they can not communicate then call for medication help.
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