Group takes a seat to support cause
The public has misconceptions about the disorder, an expert says.
By SEAN BARRON
AUSTINTOWN -- Maryann Belasco recalls falling off a ladder as a child and how, a year afterward, the grand-mal seizures began as the result of her head injury.
Over time those abated, and she experienced the less serious petit-mal seizures. Now, the 38-year-old Youngstown woman takes several medications but is never sure when the next seizure will occur; her last one was in December, she said.
"The hard part is that I can't drive," Belasco said.
Belasco attends monthly support group meetings put on by the Austintown-based Mahoning Valley Epilepsy Fund Inc. and was on hand Saturday for the organization's second annual Rocking for Epilepsy Awareness & amp; Support event. The nine-hour fundraising program at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, 5601 Interstate Blvd., was set up mainly to increase awareness and to educate people about the disorder.
Forty-nine local businesses, organizations and individuals, as well as others, sat and rocked in any of 50 rocking chairs for about an hour to raise awareness and to encourage donations to the epilepsy fund.
Posted on each chair was the name of the person or business that donated money to the fundraiser, which was expected to draw between 500 and 600 people. Chairs also were available for children.
Others who took part were members of the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force, Youngstown State University's student nurses, nursing homes, church groups and elected officials. Also in the mix were people like Kandy Budd and Paula Robinson, both part of a Hubbard Red Hat Society chapter.
Budd said that her mother, Mary Kanetsky, had epilepsy for 25 years after having a brain tumor removed. Budd added that she was at the event out of respect for her mother, who is deceased.
Robinson said she and her fellow Red Hatters "like to get out and assist in a good cause to raise money.
"It's a chance for us to get together and do something positive and have fun at the same time," Robinson said.
Everyone who sat in a rocking chair was given a packet that contained resources, first aid supplies, answers to common questions and other information pertaining to the disorder.
The fundraiser featured clowns, a raffle and performances by Ginny's Bellydance Boudoir of Boardman.
Ginny Engelhardt, owner of the belly-dancing studio, said she and her group like to perform in small, casual settings, as well as at events like Rocking for Epilepsy.
Raising awareness of epilepsy also includes dispelling certain misconceptions about it, explained Janet Mau, the epilepsy fund's director. It's a myth, for example, that those affected are unable to function well and are strapped by limitations, she noted.
"Most people with epilepsy can do most activities as long as someone is with them," Mau said, adding that those who are free of seizures for at least six months can apply for their driver's license.
Most can work and take part in everyday activities unguided, though people with the neurological disorder should consult their doctor and be accompanied by another person before performing at-risk activities such as swimming, parachuting or riding a motorcycle, Mau said.
It's also a myth that it's OK to place an object between the teeth of someone experiencing a seizure to prevent the tongue from being swallowed, she said. Doing so will likely cause a broken tooth; instead, it's safest to turn the person on his side, she explained.
Seizures vary in severity and intensity, and it's easy to miss a child having one, Mau noted. With youngsters, it's important to look for patterns such as the child's staring for an abnormal amount of time or "zoning out," she continued
Mau said that her organization was looking for a unique idea and that the rocking chair concept came about because rocking is safe for anyone with epilepsy, she added.
Various businesses and other entities have donated about $7,000 so far, Mau said, adding that she hopes the event will bring in around $10,000, which will be used for education programs and to support those with epilepsy.
The Mahoning Valley Epilepsy Fund also performs outreach in schools and for businesses, and offers a support group that meets once a month, Mau said.
For more information, call the epilepsy fund at (330) 270-8037.