Steamboat man hopes to raise awareness about epilepsy

Bill Whittemore is a clerk at Natural Grocers in downtown Steamboat Springs and has suffered from epilepsy his entire life. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Bill Whittemore wears a small purple ribbon pinned to the outside of his jacket as he straightens the Kombucha tea display at Natural Grocers in downtown Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.

The ribbon is subtle, but he hopes it will draw attention to a topic that he takes very seriously.

“Epilepsy is a neurological illness that causes one in every 100 people to have difficulty in the brain,” Whittemore said. “Every person with epilepsy is different, and everyone gets epilepsy at different ages.”

November is National Epilepsy Awareness month, and that’s why Whittemore and many of his friends and co-workers are wearing purple ribbons.

“Hopefully, people will notice,” Whittemore said.

What to do

• Stay calm, most seizures only last a few minutes.
• Prevent injury by moving any nearby objects out of the way and placing a blanket or jacket under the person’s head if possible.
• Pay attention to the length of the seizure.
• Make the person as comfortable as possible.
• Keep onlookers away.
• Do not hold the person down.
• Do not put anything in the person’s mouth.
• Do not give the person water, pills or food until the person is fully alert.
• If a seizure continues for longer than five minutes, call 911.
• Be sensitive and supportive, and ask others to do the same.

Information provided by Epilepsy Foundation’s “First Aid for Seizures.”

He also has started a Facebook page where people can make donations to the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado through Nov. 30.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report there are about 3.4 million people with epilepsy in the U.S. and about 65 million worldwide. Those numbers are higher than autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy combined.

Whittemore has been dealing with the seizures caused by epilepsy since he was 2 days old. While he was in the hospital as a newborn, a nurse noticed he was not breathing and rushed him to the emergency room. The medical staff was able to get Whittemore breathing again, but he has been living with the symptoms caused by the trauma to his brain — including epilepsy — since that day.

Because of epilepsy, it takes Whittemore a little longer than other people to express himself, but he has plenty to say. He will tell you what it was like to grow up with epilepsy and how other children made fun of him as he struggled to get his words out.

Whittemore also deals with seizures on a regular basis.

He points out there are more than 40 different kind of seizures, ranging from those that involve convulsions and muscle spasms to others that result in someone simply staring off into space or losing consciousness.

Whittemore has had seizures in public, including one a few weeks ago at work that sent him to the emergency room. He believes he has been able to reduce the number of seizures he experiences each year by modifying his diet and avoiding gluten. He also has started using cannabis-based oils as well as cinnamon-scented essential oils that he said help ward off potential seizures if he feels them coming on.

Ultimately, by raising awareness about epilepsy, Whittemore hopes to help others living with the disorder, educate Steamboat area residents on what to do if they see someone having a seizure and raise money that can be used to find treatments or even a cure someday.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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