Medical marijuana offers hope for local woman with epilepsy
It happened when she was only 14. During shop class, current Alexandria resident Jennifer Gauthier experienced a seizure, fell from a tall stool and cracked her head.
“The only thing worse than a headache and nausea after a seizure is that combined with a concussion,” Gauthier recalled.
She was brought to the hospital where the doctors performed EEGs and CT scans, she said. “And they told me, ‘Yes, you definitely have epilepsy.’”
Thirty-year-old Gauthier has since learned to handle her condition, in her case known as photo sensitive epilepsy. It basically means that light acts as a “trigger” for her seizures. Stress can also be a trigger.
“I’ve tried every medication there is, pretty much, over the years,” Gauthier said. “I went through most of them when I was a teenager, and none of them worked.”
Today, Ativan works well to prevent seizures from happening, but it’s not perfect. “The side effects of most epilepsy medications are extremely severe for most people,” she said. “The Ativan itself has issues. It’s like a sedative.”
When a seizure does happen, Gauthier typically loses consciousness completely, falls down and starts convulsing, and it can last upwards of 10 minutes. Then, depending on the severity of the seizure, she may need a couple days to recuperate.
The regularity of seizures varies depending on how well she avoids triggers. She might have several in one month or go six months without one. However, she frequently experiences auras, which signal an oncoming seizure.
During an aura, Gauthier experiences déjà vu, the feeling of having been somewhere before, or jamais vu, being somewhere familiar but unable to recognize it. “It’s really disturbing to be sitting in your living room and suddenly think, ‘Where am I?’”
LIVING DAY TO DAY
“I’m so used to it. I don’t know what it’s like to live without it,” Gauthier explained of her epilepsy.
She is a stay-at-home mom and homeschool teacher to her 5-year-old daughter, Sydney. While at home alone with her, Gauthier said she is extremely diligent to avoid triggers.
She added that her husband, Jeramy, has stood by her side. Though she knows how to avoid seizures, her husband is ready to provide medication or drive her to the hospital if she doesn’t have time to react.
“I’ve had situations where it’s come on so fast that I only have time to think, ‘Oh, that’s not good,’ and then I’m down,” she said.
Epilepsy has gotten in the way of many things Gauthier enjoys. She has been hindered while editing a novel she hopes to publish because she can only spend so much time on a computer before having auras.
It also affects where she can go, as some fluorescent lights act as severe triggers.
In the future, it may also hinder her ability to find a job after she is done homeschooling her daughter.
For years, Gauthier has heard talk of marijuana being used as a medication to treat epilepsy and other conditions.
“It was legal in so few places that I just thought, ‘Oh, that’d be nice, never gonna happen.’”
But soon, states began to legalize it for medical purposes, and Gauthier’s hope grew.
“I know that with temporal lobe epilepsy, people have had good results with it when other meds didn’t work. It’s different for everybody, so I can’t say I know it’ll fix my epilepsy, but I think I should be given the option to try it at least.”
A bill legalizing medical marijuana for certain conditions has passed through both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate, but with it comes concern of abuse.
“The way I look at it, we have all kinds of things that are legal and that have a potential downfall, like alcohol,” Gauthier said. “We just have to expect people to behave responsibility like they would with any other controlled substance.
“If somebody gets high and they drive or if they leave it lying around and their kid ingests it, then they should have to deal with the legal consequences.”
With the bill ready to be signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton, Gauthier hopes for the option to try marijuana to reduce her seizure threshold and allow her to go through life without constantly worrying about seizures.
“I don’t know if it will work for me,” she said. “I know there’s a relatively small chance that it will do anything, but that’s more of a chance than I had before. If it works, it’s worth it.”