First responders and the general public recently had the opportunity to learn more about epilepsy.

On June 25, Todd Patrick, program supervisor for the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, and Executive Director of the EFVA Suzanne Bischoff, hosted an epilepsy training program for first responders at the Roseland Rescue Squad. The training was designed to help responders better identify, understand and respond to seizures and seizure emergencies. Although the program was designed for Emergency Medical Services responders and law enforcement officials, it was free and open to the public.

“Seizures can be a cause of early death,” Bischoff said.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by sudden, reoccurring episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Epileptic patients can have triggers that cause an episode, most commonly stress Bischoff said, but a person without epilepsy can have seizures, too.

Bischoff told the group of seven in attendance there are two groups of seizures, provoked and unprovoked. Often times a seizure isn’t someone losing control of their body, but “zoning out” or providing odd responses like “I’m fine” for every question. According to Bischoff and Patrick, often law enforcement responding to a call can’t tell the difference between an epileptic episode and drug or alcohol related incidents.

“Everyone thinks they know what epilepsy is, then they don’t even know about focal seizures,” Bischoff said.

A seizure that results in blank staring, chewing, or repetitive purposeless movements; wandering or running; confusion; inability to communicate effectively; crying or screaming; change in muscle tone or movement; or random falling is known as a focal seizure with impaired awareness. Bischoff said many people don’t recognize this as a seizure, and often think it’s drug or alcohol related.

Patrick said it’s common for police to misunderstand a situation.

“I get why they misunderstand and that’s why we’re trying to get out there and educate,” Patrick said.

Esther Page, a lifetime member of the Roseland Rescue Squad, said her dad had epilepsy as did other family members. Although she has experience in dealing with seizures, Page said research and best practices are always changing.

“It’s always good to know what’s current and how to handle the situation. Back in the day, people would put spoons into patients’ mouths to keep them from choking. Now, we have different protocols,” Page said. “It’s changed tremendously.”

In addition to the training session to educate the Nelson community, the EFVA has recently received money to further help Nelson County residents with epilepsy.

The Nelson County Community Fund has provided financial assistance to the EFVA to help Nelson County residents with epilepsy. The EFVA is offering once-a-year financial assistance for medication or transportation costs related to epilepsy in the amount of $150.

“We don’t care about financial status, we just want to help,” Patrick said on June 25.

This money, if the person is approved, can go toward paying for medicine for epilepsy or toward trips to doctors and experts’ offices if needed.

Connie Brennan, a Nelson County Community Fund board member, said the NCCF chose to support the EFVA for a number of reasons.

“The Nelson County Community Fund awarded this grant as it will meet our mission of serving people in need in our community. As a nurse, I know only too well how misunderstood epilepsy is, and educating our citizens will touch the lives of many people and their families in Nelson County, and beyond,” Brennan said.

Patrick said the EFVA hopes to continue educating the Nelson and Virginia communities alike. For more information and a calendar of upcoming events, the public can visit the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia website at

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for the News and Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or

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