Sister’s epilepsy diagnosis ignites East Grand Forks woman’s career ambitionFive years ago, when Erika Pritchett was 13, her older sister had a grand mal seizure that left the family stunned and bewildered. It came out of the blue.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Five years ago, when Erika Pritchett was 13, her older sister had a grand mal seizure that left the family stunned and bewildered. It came out of the blue.
“We had no clue what was going on,” Erika said. “Her memory of that whole day was wiped out. It never came back.”
At first, doctors suspected a brain tumor but soon after it was determined that Michon, who was 16 at the time, was diagnosed with epilepsy.
Ruling out a brain tumor was a relief to the family, Erika said. “It was terrible that she had (epilepsy), but it was easier for our family to deal with than a brain tumor.”
Her sister’s ordeal was pivotal in Erika’s life, sparking her interest in the brain and how it works.
The life-altering event fueled Erika’s desire to pursue a career in neurology, the medical specialty which deals with disorders of the nervous system.
Before Michon’s seizure, “I hadn’t even heard of epilepsy…,” Erika said. “It kind of freaked me out,” and prompted her to spend “a lot of time researching epilepsy.”
She plans to major in biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — where she has recently started her freshman year — and go on to medical school.
Erika is one of 10 students nationwide to earn a Visine Students with Vision scholarship for $5,000 for her college education. When she was notified of the award, she said, “I was beyond shocked. It was incredible.”
“Getting help to pay for college was a very big deal for me,” said Erika, who has also received several other scholarships. “If it wasn’t for scholarships, I wouldn’t be in college.”
The Visine scholarship is given to students “who demonstrate a clear and unique vision, strong ambition and determination to bring their dream to life,” according to a company spokesperson.
The daughter of Linda and Graham Pritchett of East Grand Forks graduated in May from East Grand Forks Senior High School. She ranked second in her class of about 150, said her mother.
The scholarship “was a godsend, to say the least,” Linda said.
Her daughter “has always been extremely compassionate,” Linda said. “She’s always done well in math and science.”
Erika took college-level courses in high school, trained to become a certified nurse assistant, and was active in Students First Leaders Forever, an organization which encourages community service.
She hopes to build a career centered on brain disorders in general, she said.
“How the brain works is really fascinating to me. I was fascinated by how much can happen just from little things.”
Erika will take the insight she’s gained from Michon’s experience into her neurology studies. At one time, her sister was taking numerous pills a day; that’s been reduced to a couple.
Michon is able to drive and plans to complete a bachelor’s degree at UND next year.
“Once she got her medications under control, that changed everything,” Erika said. “Michon and my family are extremely lucky.”
Epilepsy “is a terrible diagnosis,” Linda said, “but at least it’s managed.”
Through epilepsy foundation-sponsored events and newsletters, the family realizes that “so many others have it much worse,” she said. “Some are positively crippled by it. Some have seizures so severe they can die from it.”
Linda is grateful that Michon “has such a controllable case.”
“Erika has told her sister, ‘If I graduate, I’ll treat you for free for life,’” Linda said, with a laugh.
“What a gift to be able to help someone in your family.”
Knudson covers Health and Family for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext.1107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.