HAUGHTON, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Brent and Chrissie McWilliams of Haughton were married for a year when he began having silent seizures.

“It took a year for doctors to diagnose him with epilepsy,” said Chrissie. “They were not the typical seizure. He’d stare into space for a few minutes, then he’d come back around and be tired and go to sleep.”

Twenty-three years later, everything has changed for the local couple. In 2008, Brent had his first grand mal seizure.

“Now someone has to have eyes on him 24/7,” says Chrissie. “The seizures come out of nowhere and at the strangest times. We can’t go to dinner because he takes a big dose of seizure meds at 6 pm. We can’t walk around the fair. Life is different for us. It’s stressful.”

Brent and Chrissie are part of a staggering statistic: one out of every 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime and at least one million Americans currently have uncontrolled epilepsy.

Epilepsy is not contagious, but you can get it at any age. Chrissie wants others to understand that you can’t judge someone based on looks.

“I think people need to understand that just because someone doesn’t look sick, that doesn’t mean nothing’s wrong with them,” she said. “You can’t judge somebody from that.”

Here’s how to respond if you see someone having a seizure

Seizures are unpredictable and scary, so our first reaction is to become immobilized and not know what to do. There are also many different types of seizures, including grand mal, myoclonic, infantile spasms, atonic, petit mal, focal and psychogenic.

A little knowledge about how to respond to seizures, however, can make a big difference in how to respond to others in their time of need.

  • Stay with the person having a seizure until it is over, paying special attention to how long it lasts.
  • Despite popular opinion, it’s physically impossible to swallow your tongue during a seizure. Never force something into the mouth of someone who is having a seizure!
  • Stay calm the entire time, as most seizures only last for a few minutes.
  • Move objects out of the way of the person having the seizure to prevent injuries and make the person as comfortable as you can.
  • Don’t hold the person down or give them water, food or pills by mouth unless they are completely alert.
  • Check on the breathing of the person having a seizure and know when to call for emergency help.
  • Make certain everyone around the person having a seizure is being sensitive and supportive.

Chrissie says she and Brent are lucky to have family helping them.

“It was too stressful at first, so we sold our house and my mom and sister and brother in law all moved in with us. We coexist as one big family now,” she said. “The biggest thing for us is that epilepsy patients can be triggered by any excitement—good or bad. Overstimulation can make you have a seizure.”

When do I call for emergency help if someone is having a seizure?

  • If one seizure occurs after another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures.
  • If seizures occur closer together than is typical for that person.
  • If breathing is difficult or the person experiencing the seizures is choking.
  • If the seizure occurs in water.
  • If an injury may have occurred.
  • If the person having the seizure asks for medical help.
  • If one seizure occurs after another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures.
  • If a seizure lasts five minutes or longer.

HOW CAN I TELL IF SOMEONE’S OKAY AFTER A SEIZURE?

  • They can answer the four Ws: who, what, when and where.
  • They can talk or communicate in some way.
  • They can breathe normally.
  • You can wake them up if they fall asleep after the seizure.

Chrissie suggests finding a great neurologist when dealing with epilepsy. She says it makes a big difference.

“Don’t just go to one neurologist and take everything they say to heart,” she also said, “because there are so many different doctors and medications out there and you have to try several before you find what’s right for you. It’s not a one stop shop.”