TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend from
Chicago. In the course of the conversation, he told me about his daughter,
Lauren. Although Lauren was a happy, healthy baby at birth, she began to have
seizures at the age of 7 months. Seventeen years later, the seizures continue,
the cause has never been identified, and Lauren's development has been
irrevocably delayed. She will never live independently and will require
lifelong supervision and support. As her father spoke, I could see and hear the
devastating impact Lauren's epilepsy has had, not only on her own life but also
on her entire family.
When I heard Lauren's story, I was determined to learn more about this
condition and bolster this administration's efforts to improve treatment and
find a cure.
Nearly 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with epilepsy each year. Current
treatments control symptoms in most of their cases. Yet the word epilepsy still
provokes profound fear and misunderstanding.
Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder characterized by spontaneous,
recurrent seizures that range from brief lapses in attention to prolonged
losses of consciousness with convulsions. It affects more than 2 million
Americans -- one out of every 100. Of these, 300,000 are children. Head
injuries, brain tumors, stroke, lead poisoning, genetic conditions and
infectious illnesses can cause epilepsy. But in more than half of all cases --
like Lauren's -- no explanation is ever found.
According to a new report, "Epilepsy: A Report to the Nation,"
sponsored by the Epilepsy Foundation of America, anti-seizure drugs and other
forms of treatment can control or eliminate seizures in 75 percent of those
These people live nearly normal lives -- lives that can be both
personally and professionally fulfilling. But even they never escape the
uncertainty or the potential social stigma that comes out of ignorance -- a
stigma that can crush the spirit as surely as the disorder debilitates the body
and the brain.
Tragically, though, for the nearly 600,000 like Lauren, the disorder is
intractable. Drugs, diet, surgery and other treatments just don't bring their
seizures under control.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of epilepsy is the toll it takes
on children. Seizures in early childhood often produce developmental delays and
brain damage that can lead to a lifetime of dependence and extraordinary costs.
Children with epilepsy are at special risk for learning problems.
They fall behind in reading, language development and general knowledge.
Children who have frequent seizures can't even go to school. Perhaps worst of
all, they live in constant fear of their next seizure.
If these children are ever to live the normal, healthy and happy lives
they deserve, we must dedicate ourselves to finding a cure now.
I'm pleased that the President's budget for this year includes a 14
percent expansion for the National Institutes of Health, the largest funding
increase ever. Of this, an unprecedented $76 million is for epilepsy research
alone. But we must still do more.
This week, I'll be in Chicago for the dedication of a new epilepsy
center at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital and a major nationwide
fund-raiser for epilepsy research. There, I'll release the Epilepsy
Foundation's report and talk about the administration's next steps in the
effort to eliminate the disorder.
Next year, NIH researchers will convene the first-ever administration
conference on epilepsy, bringing together more than 150 experts and members of
the public focused on finding a cure. In addition, the Centers for Disease
Control and the Agency for Health Care Policy Research together will launch a
campaign to educate medical practitioners about the critical need for early and
I have heard from many families around the country who have been
touched by epilepsy. Some share the pain of lives destroyed and promising
futures extinguished. Others marvel at the seemingly miraculous -- when drugs,
surgery or diet actually bring an end to the nightmare.
But the message is the same: More research dollars are critical if we
are to devise innovative, safe and effective treatments or find a cure. No one
has said it better than the parents of 12-year-old Philip Gattone, whose
seizures ceased following a combination of successful surgery and drug therapy.
"Today, Philip plays sports, participates in school activities and
clubs, and loves learning. He has friends that care about him. He is our
"There are so many children that need help. The fight for a cure is a
daily battle, and it is real. It is a fight that must be won. Only research and
new treatments will help these special families achieve their dreams of
recovery from epilepsy."
For more information on epilepsy, visit the Epilepsy Foundation of
America at www.efa.org.
COPYRIGHT 1999 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.