Chronic health conditions have been somewhat lost in the background during much of the world’s struggles to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
To better understand how much harder life can be for someone who battles through it daily, Spectrum News 1 met with a mother who has epilepsy.
Laura Nance, 32, was first diagnosed with the disease at 8 years old. Now, she does her best just to get by. The seizures caused by the illness have plagued her almost all of her life.
Her 5-year-old daughter Emma has remained one of the only constants in Nance’s life.
“She’s my top priority,” Nance says.
On this sunny day at a park on Main Street in Rolesville, Nance shares what makes these moments with her daughter so great. As Emma races up a set of stairs leading to a slide, Nance talked about Emma’s personality.
Nance said, ”She’s who she is.”
Nance only really leaves the house for these trips to the park and the doctor’s office.
“I am kinda used to being stuck at home,” she says.
Her faint voice is only one of the symptoms of this disorder that seizes control of her life.
“I’ve been on so many different medications. It’s like my brain is on it for a month or two and then my brain figures out a way to get around it,” Nance says.
Over the course of two interviews, Nance told Spectrum News she doesn't remember life without seizures. She says she can have up to three epileptic episodes 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
To show you what she does to stay on top of the disorder, she pulled out a container full of orange-coated prescription bottles.
“I take six of these at night. I was taking three of these,” she says.
“I had so many seizures people didn’t always tell me if I had, had one. Unless I found myself in a different place than when it started then I won’t know if I had one,” she says.
To her, seizures are as normal as brushing teeth. A day without a pill is a day she may not live.
Doctors describe her seizures as a lightning storm with nerves.
“It kills every brain cell it touches. So every time I have a seizure, I am losing a little bit of my brain,” she says.
Each time she has a seizure, this is what is happening inside of her body. Muscular tissue becomes stiffer than a wooden board, she stares off into space like no one else is around, and her face can start twitching so much it looks like she is violently shaking her own head. She says she isn’t though. It’s another side effect of an uncontrollable disorderl. This is called a focal onset impaired awareness seizure.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, every day you have a seizure in the state of North Carolina is another six months you can’t drive.
“I’ve never been seizure-free long enough to get a full license,” she says.
Because of her epilepsy, she can’t hold down a steady job. She’s forced to live with her parents and relies on child support payments to take care of her daughter. Her only source of income is the $800 a month she receives from Emma’s father. After she pays for insurance and medicine, she is left with a $300 budget for any other expenses.
This is so tight of a budget, all it took to ruin it was a zipper falling off her daughter’s coat.
“I cried when I went to bed that night,” she says remembering when it happened.
While Emma doesn’t notice, her mom beats herself up about it.
“I feel like a failure as a mom sometimes,” she says.
Nance’s greatest hope is not passing on the same DNA code causing epilepsy to her daughter.
Like most parents, she wishes a better life for her daughter, one free of worrying about her disability or dependence on disability payments. Nance refuses to collect medicare because of her political beliefs.
She simply wants her daughter to have a full and normal life.
“She is my joy,” she says.
The Epilepsy Foundation states most people with the chronic illness have not had their symptoms worsened by the onset of the novel coronavirus, according to their website.
However, about 1 in 4 persons with epilepsy say they had more seizures during the pandemic.