Minnewaska Area High School students helps raises awareness for epilepsy
Hannah Poshek was diagnosed with epilepsy at just 13 months old.
GLENWOOD — Close to 20 students and nearly 40 staff members from Minnewaska Area High School filled the school with purple on Friday, Nov. 18, to support a fellow student living with epilepsy and to raise awareness for the disorder.
November is Epilepsy Awareness Month and purple is the color used to bring awareness to the disease because lavender is the international flower of epilepsy — a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures.
Hannah Poshek, a senior at MAHS, sold purple epilepsy awareness ribbons to raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. Money was also collected via a coffee that sells scones, brownies, hot cider, tea and coffee.
"It means the world to me as the students at my high school are my support system," said Hannah. "There is a chance that I could have a seizure at any moment."
Poshek was first diagnosed with epilepsy at 13 months old. During that time, she would often suffer anywhere from 50-100 absence seizures a day, according to a 2019 Echo Press article.
That same article said, "when she was 8, the family met with an epileptologist through the University of Minnesota Health MINCEP Epilepsy Care. Through that, they were able to make medication adjustments and changes to Hannah’s diet that have resulted in limited seizure activity."
Since then she has not let epilepsy hold her back. She has participated in dance, FFA and even competed in the Special Olympics where she earned gold medals in gymnastics and swimming.
She has also played hockey with the Alexandria Area Hockey Association's Muskie hockey team through Minnesota Special Hockey — a program that provides children and adults with disabilities the chance to play hockey against players of their own skill level across Minnesota.
She has even sung the National Anthem at Minnesota Special Hockey events.
In 2019, she was named the Minnesota Special Hockey Athlete of the Year.
In 2016, Hannah was featured as one of the main protagonists of a comic book called "Medikidz Explain Playing Sports with Epilepsy." It stars a character modeled after Hannah who finds out she has epilepsy and almost gives up on her dream of playing hockey until she and a group of children known as the "Medikidz" travel through time to meet Chanda Gunn — a U.S. hockey Olympic gold medalist who was diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age.
Hannah's advice for someone who is diagnosed with the disorder is to "have a good support system in place, take your medications and talk to your doctors."
She says one of the biggest challenges with epilepsy is the medications and the side effects that come with them. She added that a common misconception is that you can swallow your tongue when having a seizure.
"Another challenge is the stigma that you can't do something that other students can do," she said. "You can do anything you set your mind to it."
“Hannah’s story is a shining example of what makes our community so powerful. This is a great example of what it looks like to ensure no one journeys through epilepsy alone," said Glen Lloyd executive director for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota . "We are so proud to have such a dynamic young advocate in Hannah."
Hannah's dad, Chris Poshek — who also has epilepsy — posted on his Facebook page on Nov. 16 that Hannah is one-year seizure free and he himself is six years seizure-free.
"It meant a world of good to see students and staff supporting Hannah," he said when asked what it meant for him to see the school's support for his daughter. "When she was first diagnosed we weren't sure what her future would look like. But now that she's a senior the world is her playground. I see all the friends that she has made and it makes my wife and I proud of Hannah."
He said his biggest worry when Hannah was first diagnosed was that he didn't want her to go through the same things as himself. He wanted to show her that just because she has epilepsy doesn't mean she can't achieve her dreams.
Hannah says after graduation she plans on going to Alexandria Technical and Community College to become a special education paraprofessional.
"And who knows, maybe a famous actor," she added.
She will be traveling to Florida in late December for a dance show with Just For Kix. And is excited to start her 12th year playing hockey with Minnesota Wild Special Hockey Alexandria.
What to do when someone is having a seizure
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these steps:
- Stay with the person until the seizure ends and he or she is fully awake.
- After it ends, help the person sit in a safe place.
- Once they are alert and able to communicate, tell them what happened in very simple terms.
- Comfort the person and speak calmly.
- Check to see if the person is wearing a medical bracelet or other emergency information.
- Keep yourself and other people calm.
- Offer to call a taxi or another person to make sure the person gets home safely.
The CDC reports that there are 53,700 people in Minnesota diagnosed with epilepsy and about 3.4 million people nationwide — that's 1.2% of the population.
Corrections were made to clarify that Hannah will play hockey this year with Minnesota Wild Special Hockey Alexandria.