What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder that affects the central nervous system and causes seizures that range from mild to severe. Seizures may cause:
- a loss of consciousness
- a staring spell
- temporary confusion
Anyone may have an unexplained seizure once during a lifetime. It’s also possible to have one that is provoked by an illness or injury. But a diagnosis of epilepsy means having two or more unprovoked seizures.
Epilepsy can be treated, and precautions can control seizures and minimize injuries. In fact, most people with epilepsy live long and normal lives, including these 13 celebrities.
Check out a visual guide of how epilepsy affects your body »
Rap superstar Lil Wayne recently came clean about the condition he has dealt with for much of his life. In 2013, he was hospitalized when he had a series of seizures. They occurred after shooting a music video and were brought on by a busy schedule and lack of sleep.
After recovering, Lil Wayne opened up in an interview about having multiple seizures throughout his life. In talking publicly about his epilepsy and what it feels like to have a seizure, the rapper is helping to shed light on the condition for his millions of fans.
Olympic athlete Dai Greene is an example of how lifestyle habits can make a real difference to your health. The British track and field hurdler has epilepsy, but he hasn’t had a seizure in years.
After medications failed to eliminate his seizures, Dai realized that alcohol, stress, and lack of sleep triggered them. He changed his lifestyle, cut out alcohol, and started eating better.
No one with a medical condition should rely on lifestyle changes alone without consulting a doctor. But Dai’s success shows that healthy living can be a great supplement to professional medical care.
He will forever be known for his role in the popular Lethal Weapon movies, but Danny Glover also impacts people when he talks about epilepsy. The Academy Award-winning actor struggled with epilepsy and seizures as a child. Like many people with epilepsy, he was lucky enough to outgrow the disorder.
Today, Glover works to bring awareness to epilepsy by supporting the Epilepsy Foundation. He contributes to the organization’s programs for children and volunteers his time speaking about epilepsy and bringing awareness to the issue.
Former Atlanta Falcons running back Jason Snelling is another important supporter of the Epilepsy Foundation. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in college. With treatment, he was able to continue his football career and become a successful professional athlete.
Today, Snelling works with the Epilepsy Foundation to bring awareness to the condition. He reaches out to others by speaking out about his own experiences. He also works with the Foundation’s African American initiative, “Know the Difference.” Snelling’s outreach is helping to bring awareness and funding to this important cause.
Legendary singer-songwriter Neil Young has long lived with epilepsy. He also has a daughter who inherited the condition. In his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, he writes about his epilepsy and other medical conditions. He even describes a medical procedure he underwent years ago. Now banned, the procedure was painful and didn’t help his condition. Today, Young lives well with controlled epilepsy and also helps his daughter to manage her condition.
The woman who made waves on “Britain’s Got Talent” with her lovely voice has also opened up about having epilepsy. The unlikely star struggled with the condition throughout her childhood. Boyle has talked openly about her physical disability and how it held her back. Adults in her life told her that her seizures were due to a mental defect, and for years she believed them. By talking about her struggles, Boyle helps to shine a light on children who may suffer emotionally because of epilepsy.
“Mighty Mike” of show basketball team the Harlem Wizards first started having seizures as a toddler. He continues to live with epilepsy as an adult, but he speaks out about his experiences and shares his difficulties as a child. Simmel’s motor skills and physical movements were slow to develop, but when his dad gave him a basketball, he blossomed. Playing the sport helped him to develop his coordination skills. Today, Mighty Mike works with the Epilepsy Foundation to help children with special needs.
His fans know him as the knowledgeable owner of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop and the star of “Pawn Stars.” What Rick Harrison’s fans might not know about him is that he lives with epilepsy. Harrison attributes his love of history to the fact that he was forced to spend much of his time as a child inside the house, alone. He spent the lonely hours reading books about history and developed a life-long passion for the subject. Now, Harrison is giving back by working with the Epilepsy Foundation and helping the organization bring awareness to his home state of Nevada.
Prince, the legendary performer and Grammy Award-winner, only talked publicly about his childhood battle with epilepsy a few years ago. He described being made fun of in school and having loving parents who weren’t sure how to cope with his disorder. The experiences shaped his career and his success. Prince explains that the teasing from his classmates forced him to be confident and to develop a unique style and persona that helped make him famous.
Athletes with epilepsy are particularly great at inspiring others to succeed in the face of a physical disability. Among some of the most inspiring is Chanda Gunn, the goalie for the 2006 women’s U.S. Olympic ice hockey team. Diagnosed at the age of nine, Chanda was already an avid athlete. When she was forced to give up swimming and surfing, she took up hockey and never looked back. Today, Gunn is one of the most successful women in U.S. hockey. She’s also a spokeswoman for the Epilepsy Therapy Project.
Martin Kemp is best known in the United States as a member of rock band Spandau Ballet. In England, he’s an actor, television presenter, and advocate for epilepsy and brain cancer.
Kemp developed epilepsy two decades ago, after having surgery to remove brain tumors. He has struggled with the seizure disorder ever since, but it hasn’t held him back. He has continued to act and perform, and he is the patron of the Encephalitis Society in the United Kingdom. Kemp also shares his experiences and advice with other epilepsy sufferers.
Former guard for three NFL teams and a winner of one Super Bowl, Alan Faneca has long been vocal about living with epilepsy. He was diagnosed at the age of 15 and has coped with it ever since.
In spite of his condition, Faneca managed to have a 13-year career in professional football that included several Pro Bowl awards. He’s now a spokesman for the Epilepsy Foundation, spreading awareness and teaching people first aid for seizures.
Australian actor Hugo Weaving is best known to Americans for his roles in The Matrix and The Lord of the Ringstrilogy. His battle with epilepsy began as a teenager when he suffered major seizures at least once a year. Weaving says that his disorder never held him back, and that he didn’t let it stop him from doing the things he loved to do.
Weaving always had a positive attitude about his illness and hoped that he would outgrow it. Because of the seizures, he was never able to get a driver’s license. Today, he can say that his hopes came true. He hasn’t experienced a seizure in 18 years.
Living with Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a mysterious condition with causes that are not always fully understood. Many people develop the disorder in childhood and outgrow it, while others cope with it for their entire lives.
Seizures can be disruptive and sometimes cause injuries, but they can be controlled with treatment. As these accomplished people demonstrate, epilepsy doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying your life and finding success in all you do.