“I apologize for the delayed response, I have had a crazy exam week.” Those were the first words in the email Kierston Brady sent in response to questions for this story. The mere fact that Kierston is at Sampson Community College and taking her final exams is somewhat of a miracle in itself.
When Kierston was two years old, she suffered a brain infection and doctors predicted with a 99% certainty that she had brain cancer. Kierston underwent a craniotomy. A craniotomy is a surgical procedure in which a portion of the skull is removed so that a surgeon can access the brain. This portion of skull, called a bone flap, is reattached at the end of the procedure.
“Unfortunately,” she says, “This caused me to develop epilepsy and had damaged the entire right side of my body and is irreversible.” Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.
Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs. Treatment with medications or sometimes surgery can control seizures for some people with epilepsy. Some require lifelong treatment to control seizures. Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain, seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. Seizure signs and symptoms may include temporary confusion, staring spells, uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs, loss of consciousness and psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety or déjà vu.
“I was bullied my entire life,” says Kierston. “I had to learn to do everything with my left side and had caused a slight limp in my right leg and some people thought it was funny.” She says life was not easy and as a result, she never followed through with what she wanted to do in school “I wanted to run track and play on the high school sports teams but bullying had broken me down to that point to where I didn’t believe I could do the things that other kids could,” she said. This was followed by depression and anxiety.
Kierston (L) chats with SCC Psychology instructor, Sarah Burgin.
Not only did these circumstances not break Kierston, they eventually made her stronger. “I had met a great group of friends who had supported me through everything and eventually I began to accept that this is who I am,” says the current SCC Psychology Club President. “I enjoy making people laugh and helping them feel better about themselves because I know how it feels to believe you are worthless.”
Kierston, who has attended conferences regarding epilepsy and how to overcome the daily struggles that come with it, has set her goals higher than anyone would have ever predicted. She plans to earn her degree in EMS and then a second degree in Psychology. Currently, she is enrolled to become a Paramedic, training that could put her in a position to one day help someone else who shares her symptoms.
“Always believe in yourself. This is your life. Do not spend it trying to please others,” she says. “If you want something, work for it even if that goal may take time. Reach your goals and take charge of who you are. This is our only life, the time we have is limited, make a difference in someone’s life. You never know, you may be the one who saves their life.”
Kierston’s words of wisdom this Christmas are simple. “We seem to be so wrapped up in our social media lives that we don’t see the beauty in life itself. Put the phone away and spend this time with the people you love. Be thankful for what you do have. People will not remember every little thing you did but they will remember how you made them feel in that moment and that’s what is important.”