Give yourself a pat on the back Quesnel; the community has one more reason to stand tall.
In December 2019, Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) opened Beds 3 and 4 in their Seizure Investigation Unit (SIU), and funds raised in Quesnel helped make this a reality.
In 2012, local resident Natasha Wasmuth learned first hand how vital the SIU is in changing lives. As a veteran epilepsy patient, Natasha knew the devastating effect of tonic clonic seizures (formerly referred to as grand mals). After 18 years of seizures and several MRIs, a lesion was found, one that developed before she was born, and she was left with brain surgery as the only option.
Natasha was referred to the SIU at VGH’s neurology department, and with only two beds in the entire province for adult patients, the wait list was two years.
Of the 40,000 patients in B.C. living with epilepsy, more than 32,000 are adults, and more than 9,000 of these patients have what is considered uncontrollable epilepsy, with two-thirds being possible surgery candidates. To have uncontrollable epilepsy, it only takes two failed medications, and staying hopeful throughout her journey, Natasha had tried four. Though her fear of having brain surgery was considerable, Natasha’s desire to help improve care for more than 30 per cent of epilepsy patients across B.C. was stronger.
“While stuck in an SIU bed with my head covered in electrodes, I decided that the only answer was to make a change,” Natasha said.
After a 17-day stay in the SIU and numerous seizures, the team at VGH’s Epilepsy Clinic decided Natasha was a surgery candidate.
In 2013, VGH neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Redekop performed a lesionectomy, removing the damaged areas from her brain.
“My experience with epilepsy was a living hell, as it is for so many patients, so that would be my mission,” Natasha said. “I came out of surgery knowing my second chance at life would be about helping others.”
The VGH Foundation is directed by Vancouver Coastal Health as to their fundraising priorities, and for several years, the SIU didn’t make the list. Undeterred, Natasha took up the challenge a few months into her recovery to help the VGH Epilepsy Clinic double the SIU beds. She founded epilepsyQuesnel (eQ) and, with much support from residents and businesses, began raising money to increase the lifesaving opportunities for thousands of patients across B.C. As epilepsy affects one out of every 100 people, many of these patients live in Quesnel.
After each March campaign for Epilepsy Awareness Month, she made a trip to Vancouver and personally presented the funds to the VGH Foundation.
By 2015, the wait list stretched to three years, and this fueled Natasha’s efforts to make more SIU beds a reality.
In 2017, Vancouver Coastal Health gave the green light to the VGH Foundation to begin the official SIU project, with a price tag of $865,000. A few months ago, Natasha received the news she had been dreaming of for eight years. SIU Beds 3 and 4 were operational, and patients were already being admitted.
The VGH Epilepsy Clinic’s goal for Beds 3 and 4 began years before Natasha was sent to Vancouver, but the VGH Foundation has told her she is “the soul and inspiration of this endeavour.”
“The SIU at VGH plays a critical role in assessing seizures, including whether someone living with epilepsy may benefit from surgery,” John Andru Associate Director, Major Gifts and Brain Campaign lead at VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation, said. “We are grateful to Natasha and the Quesnel community for being part of the vital fundraising campaign to expand the SIU.”
Along with Natasha’s freedom from seizures, Dr. Redekop is proud one of his patients has become such a passionate advocate for this life-threatening disease.
“I am thrilled that you have done well after surgery for epilepsy and that you have become a community champion for the cause and an inspiration to patients and the public as we are expanding the surgical epilepsy program at the Vancouver General Hospital,” Dr. Redekop said. “Your hard work truly makes a difference!”
To date, eQ has raised $32,586 for the SIU, and their goal this March for their seventh campaign is to reach $40,000, with funds raised for new equipment in the original two SIU rooms.
Enjoy cookies and donuts for epilepsy at Quesnel Bakery, purchase an epilepsy ribbon by donation at Fraserview Pharmacy, or contact Natasha about donating to the cause at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Quesnel is the only city I know of fundraising for the VGH SIU; it’s such a vital part of the hospital and for that we are very proud,” said Natasha. “I started this effort, but the community has helped make it a success. Quesnel is truly the best city to live in, and I’m so incredibly grateful.”