Shortly after moving from Argentina to Miami, Maggie Degrossi was diagnosed with epilepsy. She was only 4 and she suffered from complex partial seizures that caused her to blank out.
Her childhood experiences have led her to speak out now to help educate others about living with epilepsy.
Growing up with epilepsy was not easy.
“My mom treated me a little differently than she treated my brother,” Degrossi said. “He had a lot more freedom.”
In high school, she finally confronted her mother about the issue and discovered that the restrictions she lived under were because of her condition.
Degrossi said she had two eye surgeries as a child and after each she had a seizure. At first, doctors thought the anesthesia trigged the condition.
Initially, her parents were secretive about Degrossi’s condition.
“My mom used to say, ‘You don’t have to tell people.’ Maybe she thought people were going to discriminate against me because I had it.”
The secrecy led to problems for her as a child.
“I used to be sent to the principal’s office. I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.
But the teachers sent her there when she had a seizure, thinking she was misbehaving. She was switched from regular classes to special education classes, which upset her because she had been doing well in school. She began to question things and was eventually put in regular classes.
She also stopped keeping her condition a secret.
“I started telling everybody I have it, when people ask me,” Degrossi said. “I’m a positive example how you can live a normal life, just like everyone else.”
She decided she should keep a positive attitude.
“I finally gained freedom with the help of new medication that helped me control my seizures. I got independence,” she said. “I want to show other people with epilepsy that it’s okay to talk about how they feel.”
She wants teachers to know how to deal with students who have epilepsy.
“They should treat students equally,” she said. “Parents should not be overprotective. My mom was extremely overprotective.”
In college, Maggie wasn’t sleeping enough and had a tonic-clonic seizure that frightened her. It also caused her to lose two years of memory. She vowed to eat healthier and get more sleep. She kept her promise to herself and graduated from Florida International University with a degree in psychology.
Along the way, she discovered a great resource, the Epilepsy Foundation of South Florida.
“I found out about the Epilepsy of Florida in college,” Degrossi said. “I finally went there. I never knew there were a lot of people who go through what I go through. Once or twice a week, I would go there.”
Now, with her degree and the knowledge she gained from the Epilepsy Foundation, she is able to help others.
“That’s exactly why I love doing this. I know exactly how they feel,” Degrossi said. “You can live when you have epilepsy. It’s not a disability. I tell them my story and tell them where to go. I tell them it’s okay to have epilepsy; it’s okay to talk about it. I tell people who haven’t found the medication, not to give up, to always maintain a positive attitude.”
She and her doctors found the right medication in 2002. She’s now seizure free.
For more information, go online to www.epilepsyadvocates.com.