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Red Wing next on Epilesy Foundation's list to become 'Seizure Smart'

Vagus nerve stimulation devices, like this mock-up of a model by Houston-based Cyberonics, is one of the latest methods to treat epilepsy. The device is implanted under a patient's skin, with a wire attached to the nervous system. When a magnet is rubbed over it, the device sends the brain electrical signals that can help shorten the duration of a seizure. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Seizures come in a variety of forms. From the potentially violent convulsions of a tonic-clonic to the subtle loss of consciousness of an absence seizure,  identifying a seizure in progress and providing the appropriate care to a family member, friend or coworker can be both difficult and frightening.

The Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota is looking to take away some of that fear and uncertainty by designating Red Wing one of its Seizure Smart Communities. For the next few months, EFMN will conduct free seizure training classes for area schools, businesses and government agencies.

Each 45-minute class will teach participants how to identify and respond to seizures, as well as debunk commonly held myths about seizures and epilepsy, said Vicki Snyder, EFMN outreach coordinator for southern Minnesota.

One of the most prevalent myths Snyder said she encounters is the idea of putting something in a seizing person’s mouth to keep them from swallowing their tongue.

“If I had a million dollars, I’d put up billboards that say, ‘Don’t put anything in their mouth,’” Snyder said. Not only will a seizure not cause someone to swallow their tongue, but putting something in their mouth can cause major tooth and jaw damage.

Snyder said she met a woman with epilepsy who, as a child, chipped a tooth while seizing after someone tried to put something in her mouth. The woman chose not to repair the chip as proof of the harm the myth can cause.

Snyder said the best thing to do is to turn people on their side, protect their head from hitting the ground and loosen or remove potentially dangerous clothing and accessories.

Front-line training

A major focus of the Seizure Smart Community initiative is education for local first-responders.

The EFMN classes for Red Wing police and fire crews includes training on how to tell the difference between a seizure and belligerence.

“One of the videos we present to police and firefighters shows somebody having a complex partial seizure, where they can get really combative,” Snyder said. “And we show them what to do in that situation.”

But Snyder said one of her most important audiences are area schools, and making sure teachers, staff and students are aware of the different kinds of seizures and how to react in an emergency.

An estimated 120,000 Americans under 18 years old will experience their first seizure each year, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

“We really have tried to communicate with our teachers and staff about the different types of seizures and what to do if they encounter one,” said Kris Klassen, the district nurse for Red Wing public schools.

The district already conducts yearly seizure training for staff, Klassen said.

Living with epilepsy

Aside from training and education, Snyder said EFMN’s community involvement includes support groups to help assist people living with chronic seizures.

“Sometimes it’s great to be able to sit and ask questions and share advice,” Snyder said. “It’s a safe environment, and plus we can have speakers come in and talk.”

Red Wing resident Rose Linder, a volunteer coordinator with EFMN, will be starting a local support group in the near future.

Linder’s son, Miles, experienced his first tonic-clonic seizure when he was 18 months old.

“It was quite frightening,” Linder said. “He just went down and started turning blue.”

Support groups give people a chance to discuss personal experiences, as well as to learn about lesser-known treatments for seizures such as specialized diets and medical implants.

One such treatment is vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, in which a device is implanted just under a patient’s skin and connected by wire to their nervous system.

“It’s almost like a pacemaker for the brain,” Snyder said.

If a person feels a seizure coming on, they rub a magnet over the device to activate  It then sends a mild electrical impulse to the brain, which can help reduce the duration of a seizure or prevent multiple seizures from occurring.

EFMN also provides a legal referral program if workplace discrimination becomes an issue, Snyder said.

For more information on seizure awareness and treatment options, or to find or schedule a Seizure Smart Community class, contact Vicki Snyder at 507-287-2103.

Seizure recognition and response

The Epilepsy Foundation offers the following tips for identifying the most common seizure types and how best to respond to them:

• Generalized tonic clonic

What it looks like: Sudden fall or rigidity, followed by muscle jerks, shallow breath, bluish skin and loss of bodily functions. Usually lasts a couple minutes, followed by confusion and fatigue.

What to do: Protect the subject from nearby hazards, loosen ties or shirt collars, protect their head and turn them on their side to keep their airway clear. Do not put anything in their mouth, try to give liquids or restrain them.

• Absence

What it looks like: A blank stare that lasts only a few seconds, most commonly in children. Sometimes accompanied by rapid blinking and chewing movements.

What to do: No first-aid is generally needed, but medical examination is recommended if a person experiences a seizure for the first time.

• Simple partial

What it looks like: Jerking movements localized to one area of the body. May include sensory errors like hallucinations, unexplained feelings and odd smells.

What to do: No response is necessary unless the seizure becomes convulsive. A medical examination is recommended.

• Complex partial

What it looks like: Usually starts with a blank stare, followed by random, clumsy activity. Subjects will appear unaware of their surroundings and may mumble. Typically last a few minutes, but confusion persists substantially longer.

What to do: Speak calmly and reassuring to the subject while guiding them away from hazards. Stay with the person until he or she is completely aware of their environment. Do not shout at or try to restrain the person..

• Atonic seizure (drop attack)

What it looks like: Subjects will suddenly collapse and fall. After 10 seconds to a minute, they will recover and regain consciousness.

What to do: No response is needed unless the person is injured by the fall. Medical examination is recommended.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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