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• Mar 24, 2021

Lisa Donnelly received the diagnosis at 18 that explained a lot of unknowns in her life – she had epilepsy.

Prior to that, the TD Bank Senior Compliance Business Oversite Manager couldn't understand what would happen at certain times.

"I was never around anyone when I had seizures," she explained. "I would just like pass out and not know what happened. Nobody really knew what it was, they would blame it on the heat, getting overexerted, all kinds of things like that."

The diagnosis during college after a visit to the hospital following a seizure where she hit her head and required stiches. She had experienced a grand mal seizure that involves a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

"It was very fortuitous to be actually diagnosed at that time," she said. "But I had mixed emotions. I was glad to finally have a diagnosis, but I also was worried because I did not know much about it. I was afraid that my friends might treat me differently, and that my parents may want me to go to school closer to home, neither of which happened. My friends and parents were supportive and just wanted to understand how to help."

This March, TD's Persons with Disabilities committee has organized the first ever bank-wide epilepsy awareness campaign. World Purple Day on March 26 presents the opportunity to raise critical awareness about epilepsy

Lisa wants to share information about the condition, which has presented numerous challenges along the way, but none that she hasn't been able to overcome.

"It's a part of me," she said. "It's a reality that I have to deal with day-to-day, but it doesn't have to stop me from doing the things that I want to do."

Epilepsy impacts individuals in different ways.

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes seizures, which can be different and vary with each individual. There are many causes for epilepsy, and it may also lead to other medical conditions. Seizures can present in numerous ways -- from what appears to be a staring spell to active physical movements and a brief loss of consciousness.

Many forms of epilepsy require lifelong treatment to control the seizures. There are some people who do stop having seizures or significantly decrease the number over time. Adults have less of a chance to become seizure free as do children with severe epilepsy syndromes.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2015 that 1.2% of the total US population had active epilepsy, or about 3.4 million, with 3 million adults and 470,000 children. About 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, making it one of the most common neurological diseases globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). About 1 in 26 people will have epilepsy in their lifetime.

The most common treatments for epilepsy are:

  • anti-seizure medicines
  • surgery
  • specific diets
  • other treatments include vagus nerve stimulation, where an electrical device is placed or implanted

"It's all about people understanding what epilepsy is and what it means, " Lisa said. "It's not something to be afraid of. Epilepsy is one of the conditions that scares people, because they don't know what to expect, and they don't know what to do."

Lisa dispels one of the most common myths about epilepsy that it is helpful to put something in a person's mouth when they are having a seizure to prevent them from injuring themselves.

"It is really a bad thing to do, she said. "If a person has a grand mal seizure, you should roll the person on his or her side and make sure there are no hard objects around them. Put something soft under the person's head and wait for the seizure to end. Be supportive when the seizure ends."

What she really wants to emphasize is that those who have epilepsy are just like everyone else.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, everything is fine," she said. "You never know, but there's always the chance that something could happen and to understand what it is, what to do and most importantly, not panic. People should know what to do if the person has a seizure. But don't treat the person differently"

Telling her story at TD

After Lisa received her diagnosis and began treatment, taking medication, she took the big step of going to Asia with her future husband. She worked there for three years before returning to the United States.

Lisa was also grateful that because of the medication, she was now able to do simple things, such as drive a car.

"I was able to live and get a job and do everything I wanted" she said. "I had seizures, but it was just fine. We thought it was important to get that experience of working overseas for our careers."

Lisa also had the challenge of coping with a visual impairment impacting her retina, known as retinopathy.

Some previous experiences made Lisa a little hesitant about telling employers, but she has always felt comfortable with disclosing her conditions at TD with supervisors and being forthcoming with her colleagues.

Lisa understands how self-identifying not only helps her as an individual but also helps the bank. Self-identification is an important way for employees to anonymously share their diversity data. That way, employers can create and enact strategies to build a culture that supports everyone and measure their progress towards their diversity goals.

"When I first told my manager, she was completely accepting of it. TD is just such an amazing company to work for," she explained. "They were very willing to make the accommodations. Before working here, I was very cautious of when and how I choose to share until you can trust the person or the organization that you're sharing it with. Once I saw how TD worked and understood the philosophy, I felt comfortable doing so. "

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