Epilepsy is a general term for a variety of neurological conditions characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. It is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States after migraine headaches, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. About one percent of Americans have some form of epilepsy, and nearly one in twenty-six people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives.
Morgan Busscher was just eight years old when she received an epilepsy diagnosis. Her parents first became suspicious when they noticed some odd behavior.
“Morgan would stop whatever she was doing, things that she’d done a hundred times in the past, and just stare for about 15 seconds and not be aware of what was going on,” explains Morgan’s mom, Cindy. After a few more instances of this behavior, Cindy scheduled an appointment with Morgan’s pediatrician, who referred her to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
She was given an electroencephalograph (EEG) which tracks electrical activity in the brain. The test indicated seizure activity, and Morgan was diagnosed with epilepsy. “We have no family history of this condition, so this was a new diagnosis for us to learn about,” Cindy explains.
There are many different types of seizures, and people may experience one or more. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the kind of seizure a person has depends on which part and how much of the brain is affected by the electrical disturbances that produce the seizures.
Morgan was first diagnosed with absence seizures, which are brief disruptions of consciousness, which usually lasts no more than a few seconds. “She would experience this type of seizure six to seven times an hour. This is very disruptive in a school setting,” says Cindy.
To help control Morgan’s seizures, she was given medication with the hope that she wouldn’t experience another seizure. However, that was not the case, because Morgan couldn’t tolerate the medication.
Over the course of three years, Morgan developed two new types of seizures, myoclonic and complex partial seizures. The frequency of her seizures also increased. She saw specialists at Detroit Children’s Hospital, Henry Ford Hospital, and Cleveland Clinic.
“We tried numerous medications and tests, including CAT scans and MRIs, but Morgan’s seizure activity was increasing despite all the interventions,” explains Cindy. At this point, Morgan really started to struggle with her seizures. She didn’t want to talk about them with anyone, and she didn’t want anyone to know about them.
To help with this situation, Morgan was referred to Dr. Asbell, a neuropsychologist at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. After a complete neuropsychology assessment, it was determined that Morgan could benefit from speech therapy. This is when Morgan met Rachel Geoghan, a pediatric speech-language pathologist. The two soon formed a special bond, and Morgan started to make significant gains.
“Morgan went from having more than 100 seizures a day, to now only one or two since last summer. It’s just miraculous,” says Cindy. “Rachel is phenomenal. We’re so grateful for the advocacy for Morgan and how the staff meets her needs no matter what is takes.”
And Morgan’s success didn’t stop there. She began accepting her diagnoses and wanted to increase awareness about epilepsy. In June, Morgan participated in the Grand Rapids Summer Stroll for Epilepsy. This marked her greatest achievement yet.
Before the stroll began, Morgan made a speech to her fundraising team of 90 family and friends. This moment showed the length of her journey during the past four years. She actually won awards for the largest fundraising team and the most money raised ($6,000).
Another major accomplishment is maintaining a modified Atkins diet for seizures. For the past year, she’s been able to limit herself to 20 carbohydrates a day, and she eats food that’s high in protein and fat, such as pepperoni and cheese. Morgan has also successfully managed her school work.
“It’s amazing to see what Morgan has accomplished in the last four years. There have been so many blessings through Mary Free Bed for Morgan and for our family on so many levels. The relationships are just precious, and the personal interest and encouragement is just outstanding,” says Cindy.
Morgan has a long journey ahead of her, but has plans just like any other kid. She will start middle school in the fall, loves music, and plays soccer. This summer Morgan will be going to Camp for Kids with Epilepsy and plans to do the Epilepsy Stroll next year. She’ll also continue her speech therapy with Rachel.
Charlotte Milligan writes for the Stories That Move You blog and manages Mary Free Bed’s website and social media.