In 2013 Leah Rucker was on her way home to New Orleans after Christmas with her family in Arkansas when she had her first tonic clonic seizure at age 30. Luckily, her husband was driving and is an RN, so he knew what to do and called 911 immediately.
“I remember waking up in the ER and being terrified because I couldn’t remember my birthday or even comprehend what the word seizure meant,” Leah says. “However, by that night my husband and I were able to put things together and I realized I had been having partial seizures for a few years that were undiagnosed. I would have these moments of extreme fear, confusion, and deja vu that would last a few seconds. I would then feel ‘out of it’ for a little while afterwards. I worked nights in the NICU, performed music as a second job, and had two small children at the time so my physician chalked it up to stress and sleep deprivation and diagnosed me with anxiety and panic attacks.”
After seeing a neurologist the next day, Leah was diagnosed with epilepsy and her battle to regain control began. She says, “It’s hard to work, have a family and not be able to drive for six months, but the most difficult part was my ever changing emotions. I lost myself for a couple of years. I got to where I didn’t know if how I was feeling was due to my epilepsy, medications, or some other factor.”
However, Leah adds that it was a relief to finally have an answer to the odd events she had been experiencing for so long. She thought to herself, “How great to know I’m not losing my mind! This is something I can hopefully fix.” She says, “I used to be terrified that it would happen during the middle of a show, while I was holding a baby at work, or while I was driving! I don’t really have that fear as much anymore. I am finally on a medication where I do have side effects, but they are tolerable. I am lucky enough to be controlled on my medication and have not had a seizure in over one year.”
Today, Leah is the Epilepsy Center Nurse Coordinator at Children’s Hospital. She is able to connect with her patients in a way many cannot, because she knows exactly what they are going through.
She has seen patients in the thick of it with uncontrolled epilepsy, enduring terrible side effects, but come out if it to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She’s seen patients start on a medication, have no side effects, and are controlled immediately. She says, “There is no one way to treat epilepsy. It is mostly trial and error, and it’s important to not get overly discouraged when things aren’t working right away. It’s not a sprint, but a marathon.”
Leah is proud that she has gotten to a point where she can help others living with epilepsy and let them see that you can still accomplish your dreams. She is the mom of two beautiful little girls, works as an RN, and gets to live her dream of being a jazz singer in one of the most wonderful cities to play music with the most talented musicians a girl could wish for. There are good days and bad days, but she is thankful for where she is right now and she had some advice for others who may be struggling:
“Be grateful for the life lessons learned and the strength gained from enduring this illness or being a support person for someone with this illness. In the words of Helen Keller, ‘Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.’”