TRURO HEIGHTS – Courtney Mills just wants to be treated the same as everybody else.
It shouldn’t matter that Mills, 18 and set to graduate high school this coming June, has been diagnosed with right temporal lobe epilepsy.
“I’m living a normal life,” said Mills, who joined the Cobequid District Fire Brigade as a junior firefighter four years ago. “There’s not much you can’t do when you have epilepsy.”
Wednesday is Purple Day, a world day for epilepsy awareness, and Mills wears the colour in the hopes of educating people.
“I try to be normal like everybody else, but it’s hard when people continuously bully you. I was held back in Grade 1 because I missed so much school. I was bullied really bad in Grade 1. I was called a ‘spaz’ and a ‘retard’ throughout because I had seizures and kids thought it was funny.”
Before Mills was a year old, she started having seizures. At the age of two, she was diagnosed and put on medication to try and alleviate the absence seizures. Ten years later, she was taken off the medication, however the seizures continued so she was put back on again.
“Between the ages of 15 and 17, I was seizure free,” she said. “On April 29 of last year, I went to the Great Big Sea concert where I had four seizures, the longest one lasting about 40 minutes.”
Her parents took her to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre where Mills was referred to a neurologist. It was then that she was diagnosed with right temporal lobe epilepsy, which can lead to grand mal seizures.
“There are so many limits on things you can’t do when you have epilepsy. You can’t swim unsupervised and you can’t play contact sports, but I played baseball and basketball growing up and now I’m a junior firefighter. I was named top junior firefighter and top medical responder,” said Mills.
“A lot of people think someone with epilepsy can’t do a lot of things, like drive, but I have my driver’s license and I even take my dog everywhere I go. She loves it.”
With a love for helping people, Mills joined the fire department, the same department her father, a paramedic, has been a member for 16 years.
She’s brought in a representative of Autism Nova Scotia to host a lecture for her fellow firefighters, as well as others in the community.
Along with being diagnosed with epilepsy, Mills has Asperger syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Of all the guys in the fire department, most know that I have epilepsy but they treat me the same as everybody else. That’s all I want. I don’t want to be treated differently because I have an illness and disability.”
There are many triggers of seizures, with stress, lack of sleep, not taking medication at the proper time and flashing lights affecting Mills the most.
“It’s a little self-controlling sometimes,” she said.
“A lot of people think you can’t do the same things with a disability, but you can if you try.”
For more information on Purple Day, visit www.purpleday.org.
Quick facts about epilepsy:
- Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that is characterized by recurrent seizures. It is defined by multiple seizures
- Seizures may take different forms including a blank stare, muscle spasms, uncontrolled movements, altered awareness, odd sensations or a convulsion
- It is one of the most common chronic neurological disorders
- Approximately one in 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime
- At least one in every 10 people will have one seizure in their lifetime
- There are approximately 65 million people around the world living with epilepsy
- There are more than 300,000 Canadians living with epilepsy