Brain surgery in April last year has changed the life of Echuca resident Shirley O'Bree.By Ivy Wise
After 54 years of enduring regular epileptic seizures, Shirley O’Bree is virtually seizure-free after undergoing brain surgery in April last year.
The 68-year-old Echuca resident has gone from taking seven to as many as 20 tablets a day to two and has only had one seizure since a small piece of her brain was removed nearly a year ago.
Mrs O’Bree was first diagnosed at the age of 14 after several focal seizures at school caused her to become vague or lose consciousness for a short time.
Since then, she has suffered continued petit mal seizures, now called absence seizures, which consist of a lapse of consciousness for a short period.
In Mrs O’Bree’s case, they would last about 27 seconds.
‘‘It’s like a black-out and sometimes I wouldn’t even know it had happened,’’ she said.
Mrs O’Bree has also suffered about 15 to 20 grand mal seizures, known as tonic-clonic seizures, in which she loses consciousness and has violent muscle contractions.
Some of her seizures have led to injuries, the worst of which included a severely burnt arm after standing under 70 gallons of hot water, as well as a broken wrist and black eye resulting from falls.
‘‘After I burnt myself, I would get a warning, maybe five seconds before I had a seizure, and I would use that time to get away from any danger,’’ Mrs O’Bree said.
Although there is no way to prevent a seizure from occurring, Mrs O’Bree said foods with high sugar content could trigger it, as well as shock.
‘‘My nephew died soon after he was born and I had 22 (seizures) on the day of his funeral,’’ she said.
Mrs O’Bree, who lives with husband John at Cunningham Downs, could have had surgery two years ago, but fear stood in the way.
‘‘I remember sitting down with my neurologist and crying, telling him ‘if it was my little finger, I could learn to write again, if it was my little toe, I could learn to walk again, but it’s my brain’,’’ she said.
‘‘The risk of having a stroke scared me. If something went wrong during the operation, it could also affect my speech and eyesight.’’
However, after falling during a seizure in Echuca Safeway in January last year, Mrs O’Bree decided to undergo surgery.
‘‘Once I started falling, I worried that I might fall onto the road, in front of a car. I’d be history, but what about the driver and imagine if there were children in the car? That would be terrible for them,’’ she said.
‘‘Also, John has osteoporosis and he can’t be picking me up after a fall anymore.’’
On April 4, Mrs O’Bree underwent brain surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and apart from a few minor black-outs a week after the operation, which was expected, Mrs O’Bree has only had one seizure in November.
‘‘The doctors told us they were not saying they could not stop the seizures completely as it depended on the person, but so far, so good,’’ she said.
‘‘I feel better and everybody says I look well. I guess my quality of life has improved, but having epilepsy didn’t ever stop me from doing anything. I would never just sit around and think about it.’’
John said his wife had never been one to sit still.
‘‘She’s never home,’’ he laughed.
‘‘She knows everyone in the village and she’s involved in the social committee. She’s always doing something.’’
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