Wed | Dec 6, 2023

UWI student dies from suspected seizure

Neurosurgeon urges persons with epilepsy to inform others for wellness checks

Published:Thursday | March 9, 2023 | 1:08 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Neurosurgeon Dr Dwaine Cooke.
Neurosurgeon Dr Dwaine Cooke.

Neurosurgeon and fellowship trained epilepsy surgeon Dr Dwaine Cooke is urging Jamaicans to refrain from stigmatising people living with epilepsy, a medical condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures.

His call comes amid reports that a male student at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, was found dead in his room in a hall of residence on Wednesday morning.

Although Campus Registrar Dr Donovan Stanberry told The Gleaner that the university is awaiting an autopsy to confirm the cause of death, he disclosed that the student’s mother said he had a history of seizures.

The police suspect no foul play in his death at this time and have theorised that it could be from natural causes.

While not speaking directly to the UWI student’s circumstances, Cooke, who contends that epilepsy is a common health issue, stated that the stigma associated with it causes many people to not seek treatment for the condition.

“In olden days, there was a stigma associated with epilepsy, where people thought it was because evil spirits are within me, and for that reason, not many people sought help, so the diagnosis would be overlooked and a lot of persons would not get the necessary treatment,” he told The Gleaner.

“It is another chronic illness, just like hypertension, just like diabetes. It is something that can be treated with medication, and you can live a normal life, just like any other person with a chronic illness, and hopefully, with the appropriate education of the general population, that stigma can be eventually removed,” he added.

Wear an armband

He cautioned that diagnosis and proper treatment are integral to managing the illness but noted that it is also important for people who have epilepsy to inform others of their condition who will be able to check on them regularly.

Cooke said they could also consider wearing an armband indicating that they have the condition “so if someone sees them unconscious or finds them, they’ll know that this is the reason they are in that state”.

Cooke has also advised that a person who experiences multiple seizures on a daily basis should not be living alone.

Stanberry was unable to confirm if the student was living in a single-occupancy room, but he explained that students with special medical conditions can request specific accommodation arrangements.

“People who have those kinds of conditions, once they declare and ask for special consideration, I’m pretty sure that would always be accommodated,” he said.

In a statement, The UWI said that upon learning of the sudden passing of the student, counsellors and members of the Chaplaincy Unit were deployed to engage and provide support to students in the Elsa Leo-Rhynie Hall of Residence, also known as ‘Towers’, where he lived.

Meanwhile, students of the halls of residence say they are still struggling to come to terms with the sudden death.

Joshua Flynn, a first-year student, said the late student was an inspiration to him.

“I saw him as someone who inspired me because he would find time to do stuff for Towers. He works and then we would sometimes meet at, like, 12-1 a.m. for stuff dealing with the website or content from an event that was held. So it looked like he got his life pretty much together. It is just sad, sad to hear he passed,” he said.

Andrew Blake, a second-year resident, said he did not know of the student’s illness and reached out to him on Tuesday evening.

“The shock of it, of one person being there and then not being there in such a short time, it’s still hard to believe and come to terms with,” he said.

Meanwhile, another student pointed to how involved in hall life the late student was, stating that he would be missed.

“He was a lively person. He was the vibes when the mood is down. If he was here right now, he would come and seh, ‘How unno look suh? Fix unno face, man’,” he said.