Dear Enlighten supporters,
I have epilepsy! It hasn’t stopped me from being a Scottish International and British and Irish Lions Rugby player, but it has shaped who I am, my values, beliefs and what I want to achieve in the future.
It came as a real shock to me when I first learned that I had Epilepsy. There was a real fear of the unknown, that something wasn't right with my body even though I was always a fit person, and of course I was very concerned that it would mean an end to my rugby.
I have had epileptic seizures – Grand Mals, they call them – since I was 18. Until 5 years ago, the attacks always happened in my sleep. Then, I had a waking attack, which meant I had to forfeit my driving license for 12 months. I reacquainted myself with my old bicycle and, through sunshine and rain, life went on.
Everyone thinks that when you have epilepsy you cannot take part in physical sports. You don't get more physical than rugby, but epilepsy does not mean it is no longer an option. I was told I could continue to play, as long as I took care of myself and ensured I had my medication and was careful not to return to rugby too quickly after an attack, because the short-term memory loss can be very acute.
Back in 2000 I was the patron of a Scottish epilepsy charity and was asked to go public with my condition to help raise awareness. Being a patron of Epilepsy Scotland was a great honour and I realised that for children, coming to terms with any type of illness can be very daunting, but when someone well-known comes out and shows them what they’ve achieved, it can make a huge difference.
In 2001, I came to a dinner in Hong Kong which had a simple objective - to start a charity in the region to serve the people and families of those affected by epilepsy. I was surprised to learn that, at that time, over 30,000 people in Hong Kong had Epilepsy (the number has now doubled to almost 65,000) yet there was only one small part-time parent support group providing assistance to those families affected by the condition.
People with epilepsy don’t need someone to fight their battles for them; they just need some advice, support and, occasionally, a shoulder to cry on. Epilepsy, because of its nature is often concealed and this has created a stigma. There was, and remains an unmistakeable need to increase epilepsy knowledge and awareness in the Hong Kong community.
Help Enlighten-Action for Epilepsy build epilepsy awareness to eliminate the stigma that surrounds epilepsy and help improve the quality of lives of those affected by epilepsy.
Patron and Co-founder
Enlighten-Action for Epilepsy
Click here to know more about Tom Smith.