Every day is Father’s Day
Iversons celebrate seizure-free year
BY MIKE WARREN
STEVENS POINT – The bond between a father and his son is unique, strong and unlike many others. For one Stevens Point father and son, this bond was formed through unimaginable circumstances and a life-altering diagnosis, epilepsy – which affects nearly 60,000 people in Wisconsin, according to the CDC.
Eric Iverson, now 45, was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was only 12 years old. The family was living in Minocqua at the time.
“The first one was at school,” his father Larry Iverson told the Gazette. “We took him down to Marshfield right away and got him on some medications. The first medications didn’t help, second group of medications. After a while they just call it Drug-Resistant Epilepsy.”
Epilepsy is a disorder involving recurrent, unprovoked seizures. It is the fourth most common neurological disorder behind migraine, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. About 3.4 million Americans and 50 million people worldwide are living with epilepsy today.
While some cases of epilepsy can be treated with medicine alone, drug-resistant epilepsy (DRE) requires more than medicine to achieve seizure control. About one-third of all people with epilepsy have DRE.
Eric Iverson, the oldest of three siblings, experienced around six seizures weekly, which impacted his memory, physical abilities and limited his participation in the classroom. Despite trying several medications, the seizures continued to worsen.
“It was take the meds, hope for the best, report any side effects or anything like that,” said Larry. “He was still active in high school. He played sports. He was on the golf team, on the swim team, wrestled for three years until he hurt his knee, so he went back to the swimming team, and he was part of the football program.”
In 2001, when Larry became Eric’s sole caregiver, they were introduced to VNS Therapy, a unique, add-on therapy for people with drug-resistant epilepsy. VNS Therapy is designed to prevent seizures before they start and stop them if they do. Therapy is delivered through a small device (implanted under the skin of the chest) and works by sending mild pulses to areas of the brain associated with seizures.
After receiving VNS Therapy, Eric saw a reduction in seizures from six per week to just one every two-three months.
“Early on with the VNS we found out the battery went low, and the way we found out about it was he was working, and he worked the whole shift without knowing he was in seizure mode,” said Larry. “His seizures are not convulsive. His primary seizures are called impaired-awareness seizures, which include wandering off, disrobing in public, riding his bicycle into a lake, just some very bizarre behaviors. That’s why he requires 24-hour care. So, yeah, he worked the whole four-hour shift, and the guy he was working with said he did a great job. He just was acting goofy and kind of out of it, so the caregiver took him to the emergency room. I went up there and walked into the emergency room and Eric goes, ‘Hi Dad.’ I said, ‘Hi Eric. You know where you are?’ ‘Don’t have a clue.’ He was still in the seizure. I said, ‘Did you pass your magnet?’ ‘What?’ Then he passed his magnet and he came out of it. He wasn’t used to passing it and using it as a control. Now, as he uses it more, it’s become more effective.”
Eric wears a high-power magnet that is surrounded by a plastic casing in the shape of a watch, which he can pass over his VNS to help stop a seizure.
July will mark one year since his last seizure.
“If we get through July, it’ll be the first time since the seizures started in 1990 that he’ll go a year breakthrough seizure-free,” Larry said. “The VNS has stopped a couple of seizures from breaking through, so efficacy is improving as time goes on. The VNS is not a cure-all. It’s to help control. And for Eric it’s the best option,” Larry added.
He also says there is the constant fear of SUDEP – Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy, which Eric is very well aware of.
“We’ve talked about how he wants to be taken care of when the time comes, and what he wants done. He’s gonna have as normal a life as he can for as long as he can. Probably shorter life span than a normal life span, but we have no way of knowing,” says Larry. “He’s still special-needs because of the epilepsy and he’s had two brain surgeries, and they’ve affected his cognitive issues. He’s pretty normal. He does function very normally, but he still has some…forgetting to take his meds, for example. He calls me every morning at 5:30 to make sure he has his morning meds taken, and if he doesn’t call me I call him.”
With better control over his seizures, Eric and Larry have been able to enjoy some of their favorite father-son activities in Stevens Point, like golfing, swimming and the Special Olympics. Eric shines as a Special Olympics champion and a role model to other athletes and his co-workers at Walmart, where he’s been an employee for 17 years.
“His job at Walmart is to get the carts out in the parking lot, so he’s walking five, six miles a day at a minimum. Being physically active is very important.
“I’ve seen him graduate high school, work at the same job for 17 years, compete in Special Olympics and become a state champion,” says Larry. “I’m so proud of everything Eric has accomplished throughout his life, given what he’s been through.”
Eric’s life is not an independent one, but it’s the best the family could ever hope for.
“He has an apartment with a roommate, and then CCLS (Creative Community Living Services) has people come into the home for specific hours. Usually there’s somebody there until 10 o’clock every night. And then somebody else comes in in the morning,” says Larry.
As for Father’s Day, Larry says, “He usually takes me out to eat. Every Father’s Day we have is a special celebration. There were a lot of concerns about Eric even making it to age 25, let alone where he is now, so every day is a special one.”