Sunday, January 14, 2007

Epilepsy did not prevent woman of obtaining diploma

A woman who overcame epilepsy by having part of her brain removed has just graduated with a doctorate in clinical psychology.Alicia Hancock had to endure up to ten seizures a day as a teenager. They could happen anywhere at anytime without any warning.

She had surgery at 17 and while it affected her short-term memory, she never let it get in the way of her ambitions.Now after living in the United States for a few years she's back, armed with a new qualification and a drive to help other people who are going through difficult times in her job at the Employees Assistance Programme.Dr. Hancock, 31, who lives in Warwick, will never forget her earlier years.

She started having seizures at age 11 and had to be put on medication, which left her tired and irritable. But it was the fact she had a good, strong support base around her that made the condition manageable. She said: "I didn't really feel too different or out of place. I swam competitively, played netball and softball. My friends pretty much knew what was going on and they had a mature attitude towards it."But she did miss out on some things, like staying out late or riding a motorcycle.

"My parents were protecting me," she said.At 15, she went to the United States for tests, which is when she was diagnosed with Temporal lobe epilepsy, the most common form of the condition. "My neurons were misfiring, why or how is still a bit of a mystery," she said. "It could be genetic but my parents went all the way back in the family tree and there was no history of it."The tests were conducted to see if she was a suitable candidate for surgery. The procedure, an anterior temporal lobectomy, came with risks.

Research showed that out of 48 patients who had the operation between 1965 and 1974, 21 stopped having seizures and three were free of seizures for at least 19 years. The remaining eight had never been completely free of seizures or had died before the study began.The surgery could also interfere with memory, vision, language and movement. Dr. Hancock, nee Mullan, had the surgery at the New England Medical Centre in Boston. It was a complete success.The only area she had to work on was her memory, which she continues to do today.

Sometimes she has to repeat things over and over again to remember them, but says it's not a "significant loss."Four years after the surgery, Dr. Hancock, who has been married to husband Steve for seven and half years, swam for Bermuda in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia.She went on to study for her doctorate at Spalding University in Kentucky. Dr. Hancock returned to Bermuda in October and looks forward to offering people the same level of support she received during her difficult teenage years.

She said: "Having the seizures significantly affected my life, but I didn't let them control my life."Today, as a result of what I went through, I see building on someone's strengths rather than their weaknesses as really important and I want to be a part of that. I want to give back the support I gained."


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