Quesnel local Natasha Wasmuth is working to provide B.C. epilepsy patients with better care.
Wasmuth, the founder of epilepsyQuesnel (eQ) has spent the last month (and every month of March over the previous four years) fundraising for the Seizure Investigation Unit (SIU) at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).
Last June, in 2018, she donated a total of $27,578.30 toward two new seizure investigation beds to the Vancouver General Hospital Foundation — the amount she had earned fundraising since starting eQ in 2014.
The VGH Foundation received permission to fundraise for the new beds in late 2017, and has since taken over from Wasmuth, with a goal to raise $865,000 in total.
The SIU determines whether someone with epilepsy will be a viable candidate for brain surgery.
The patient is first referred to the program by their doctor. To be referred to the program, the patient must have refractory epilepsy, meaning their medications either don’t work well or at all. Some spend up to five years on the waitlist. Others are bumped up more quickly if their seizures continue to worsen.
To determine the patient’s candidacy for surgery, they must stay in one of the two beds in the SIU, often for at least ten days. After the patient experiences a seizure (or several) while in the clinic, the doctors are able to determine if they are eligible for brain surgery.
John Andru, the associate director of Major Gifts and the Brain Campaign Lead at the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation, said in a written statement that the SIU has a critical role in assessing epilepsy patients in the province, and in determining whether they may benefit from the surgery.
“Expanding the SIU will help us help more people across BC, with the aim of reducing wait times,” he continued. “We are grateful to Natasha and the Quesnel community for being part of the vital fundraising campaign to expand the SIU.”
It’s a surgery Wasmuth underwent herself on August 9, 2013.
It’s also the surgery that led Wasmuth to begin fundraising for the new beds, as she wanted more epilepsy patients to have access to the SIU.
So when the VGH Foundation took over fundraising for the two new beds, hoping to bring the number to four beds in total, Wasmuth realized she didn’t want to stop.
Instead, this March Wasmuth is fundraising for new equipment for the rooms with the original two seizure investigation beds. “So it’s like, help get the new and then go back and help refresh the old, so to speak,” she says.
March 26 is Purple Day, a day where people all over the world are encouraged to wear purple and host events in support of epilepsy awareness. Wasmuth takes this one step further, spending the entire month, which in Canada is also Epilepsy Awareness Month, fundraising with the help of local businesses.
Throughout the month there have been (and continue to be) Purple Ribbons for Epilepsy available by donation at Fraserview Pharmacy, and Cookies and Donuts for Epilepsy available at the Quesnel Bakery. The B.C. Liquor Store sold Cookies for Epilepsy on March 8, and will sell them again on March 22. Safeway is hosting Purple Flower Week from March 22 to 27, and Shopper’s Drug Mart will also be selling Cookies for Epilepsy from March 25 to 27. On Purple Day, March 26, Bliss will be giving out free tea and coffee from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to anyone who leaves a donation for eQ.
The final event of the month will be the annual evening at The Occidental — this year, a Fine Wine and Appy Night. The evening will begin with a video about Wasmuth’s experience with the SIU, and will be followed by B.C. magician and illusionist Jesaja Class. Class will spend an hour performing on stage, before spending another hour and a half walking amongst the tables and performing money tricks.
There will be a draw for various gift baskets, including ones from Long Table Grocery, Mama C’s, and a wine basket Wasmuth is putting together. There will be a silent auction, and the night will end with the sounds of local band Roadblock, who also recently performed at the Troll Telefest. The event runs from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on March 30. Tickets are available at The Occidental.
Wasmuth says before her surgery, she could never imagine running something like eQ. “I’m too shy; I wouldn’t even touch that with a ten foot pole. But, as they say, brain surgery does change you and you never know how it’s going to change until you’re done. So, it’s been pretty cool.”
She says through her efforts, she’s had the opportunity to meet a wide range of people.
“I really, truly thank the community. They pull together for us every year in such an amazing way. It’s absolutely incredible. And for a disease that doesn’t get a ton of attention and is very misunderstood, I’m surprised,” says Wasmuth.
And as Wasmuth says, better equipment in the SIU means better care for epilepsy patients — even those from the Quesnel area.