By Greg Young
Northwest Asian Weekly
The sun was out and the sky was blue on the day of June 20th. It was the beginning of summer and the local Seattleites and others from surrounding areas, including Sylvia Park and her brother from Gig Harbor, were ready for the warmth and sunshine. A crowd was collecting at Green Lake Park, approximately 3000 people. They were getting together so they could go on a short walk—a short walk with about a cumulative total of 2000 miles when including walkers in cities participating throughout the Northwest.
This event was the 12th annual Walk/Run for Epilepsy held by the Epilepsy Foundation Northwest. Thousands came together to raise awareness of epilepsy, and also to raise funds for the various programs held by the Epilepsy Northwest Foundation.
The foundation is the principal advocate for the epilepsy community in the Northwest. They provide community and services for sufferers of epilepsy in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and even a little bit of Montana. The epilepsy walk is held in various cities throughout the Northwest, and on June 20th, it was Seattle’s turn to host the walk. Other cities that participated in the walk included Tacoma, Spokane, Portland, Bend, and Anchorage. The event is important in that it exposes the community to recognize the diverse people who live with epilepsy.
Some walked around the three-mile track, some ran the track, and some arrived to simply help the organized event go smoothly, people such as Sylvia Park, who helped out with registration during the morning hours.
In the Northwest alone, more than 130,000 people suffer from epilepsy. “Three in 200 Asian Americans are living with epilepsy,” said Kelsey Crow, Senior Communications Associate with Veng Group, “Yet many people are still hesitant to discuss the condition for a variety of reasons.”
Park, 30 years old, whose family is from South Korea, is very familiar with this phenomenon. She grew up watching it affect her brother, who has had epilepsy his whole life. Epilepsy Foundation Northwest has helped provide her with a support system and a community for her through her various challenges.
Park’s family lives in Gig Harbor, a small, rural town on the peninsula northeast from Tacoma. Her brother lives at home with her parents. It’s very difficult for her family. Gig Harbor has very little in a support system for her brother, and her family tends to avoid the subject altogether.
“He still doesn’t have a support system,” said Park.
There are not very many Asian Americans out where they live. He has a doctor, and a social worker, but he can’t drive, and if he needs to get anywhere then he needs his parents.
“I was never allowed to talk about it,” said Park, “and they still don’t talk about it. It’s a very sensitive subject.” She said that his epilepsy goes beyond just seizures. “He struggles with depression, and even schizophrenia.”
He had lived a relatively normal childhood, up until about fifth grade when his classmates noticed he was just a little bit different. And then things started to change for him. “He had a lot of trouble making friends,” said Park.
Her brother tries hard to lead a life of his own, but it very difficult because of his condition. He’s 33 years old, and his parents keep him at home in order to keep him safe. And for good reason too, there’s no telling when he might break out into a seizure.
One incident, he took it upon himself to leave the house and take the bus to go into town. He has a variety of interests; he collects coins, and has an interest in technology. He also simply wanted to get out of the house and explore on his own. While riding the bus this one fateful day, he had a seizure. He fell over and broke his jaw.
He did complete a couple years of college, but he had to drop out because his epilepsy proved to be too challenging. However, he was showing great promise as a math major.
The epilepsy walk/run was intended to raise funds for the various programs that EFN supports, including employment assistant programs, veteran assistance, youth camps, seizure response training, H.O.P.E Volunteer program (Helping Other People with Epilepsy), and many others.
This year’s Walk/Run for Epilepsy raised $200,000.
“They’ve helped me find a support system and community,” Park said. They support research to help stop seizures, and provide a support system for those in need, even if it’s just to have someone to talk to. (end)