Thumbs Up for Epilepsy

February 1, 2016

Jaime and JessicaAs Jaime Van Velzen and Jessica Wächter spent a Saturday afternoon devising creative and inventive ways to celebrate Purple Day for Epilepsy, their conversation took a goofy turn. They tried to convince Jaime’s husband to wear purple makeup on March 26th to demonstrate his support for people with seizure disorders. As this friendly ribbing evolved from eye shadow to nail polish, Jaime and Jessica realized that purple nail polish applied to people’s thumbs is a simple and fun way to raise epilepsy awareness. Thus, their Thumbs Up for Epilepsy campaign was born.

Anyone can participate and it’s easy to buy purple nail polish, set up nail painting booths at schools or offices and encourage teachers, students or office staff to get involved. A person with a single thumbnail painted purple is unusual enough to invite others to ask questions. Participants can explain that it’s in support of people with epilepsy, and take the opportunity to spread facts about seizures disorders. Thumbs Up for Epilepsy is more than a way to show support for people living with seizure disorders, it can start conversations about epilepsy and provide a fun approach to raising awareness.

Jaime and Jessica are both well aware of the need to spread epilepsy awareness, as they are all too familiar with the experience of marginalization that often comes with having epilepsy. Jessica explains that nobody understands it: “People don’t know what to do when they see someone have a seizure. That’s why they freak out and call 911. There’s too much stigma out there.” Jaime also recalls the painful realities of that stigma: “In school, I didn’t have friends. People treated me different. They looked down on me and bullied me.”

Jaime is now a proud wife and full time mother, deeply involved in her community. Jessica is a veterinarian technologist in St. Thomas and volunteers at animal shelters. The two women’s accomplishments have been achieved partly due to better seizure management after each had successful temporal lobectomy surgeries. Jessica had part of her right temporal lobe removed and Jaime’s operation resulted in removal of part of her left temporal lobe. They like to joke that between the two of them, they share a whole brain. Perhaps it’s this increased brain power that inspired their Thumbs Up for Epilepsy campaign.

Reprinted with permission from Epilepsy Support Centre.