POLITICS

Teenager celebrated on Parliament Hill for courage to confront fears of epilepsy

03/26/2013 06:07 EDT | Updated 05/26/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - A nine-year-old girl's ability to confront and conquer her fear of telling people about her epilepsy was celebrated Tuesday on Parliament Hill with the first official Purple Day.

Cassidy Megan, who is now 14, found out she had the condition when she was in grade one, but was too embarrassed and afraid to tell her classmates. One day the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia came to give a presentation to her class. When the other students asked questions and about the condition, she found the courage to tell them about her condition.

"Every time my mom tells that story, she starts to cry," Cassidy said in an interview during a reception in one of the ornate rooms down the hall from the House of Commons.

It was her first day in the nation's capital and she attracted the man everyone expects to lead the Liberal party after a convention next month.

"Thank you so much for being such a strong leader on this," Justin Trudeau told her. "It really makes a difference."

Cassidy's mother's eyes brimmed with tears of pride as she took in her daughter's moment.

"I'm proud that she had the courage to speak out, and to help people," Angela Megan said. "I'm proud that she doesn't give up."

Lavender is the internationally designated colour for epilepsy. In many countries, the colour represents isolation and solitude which many people living with epilepsy experience.

Three hundred thousand Canadians are afflicted with epilepsy. March 26 was Canada's first Purple Day for Epilepsy aimed at spreading awareness about the neurological condition that affects over 50 million people in the world — more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease combined.

Cassidy founded Purple Day, which the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance coordinates in Canada. Soon, epilepsy advocates in 70 countries around the world organized their own Purple Days.

Cassidy's member of Parliament, Geoff Regan eventually drafted the Purple Day Act, which passed last year. He felt that more people needed to know about the condition and have compassion for those who have it.

"People who have this aren't strange, they just have a condition that you need to understand," Regan says. "I hope people, as they hear more about this, will want to learn more."

Deirdre Floyd, president of the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia, who also suffers from the condition, said misconceptions about epilepsy abound. She points to a recent study that found that 80 per cent of television shows portray first aid for seizures incorrectly.

"It projects incorrect information that many people watch."

Cassidy has written letters to some of these shows, including the network soap opera Days of Our Lives, which she watches with her mom Angela. Usually someone writes back.

She's quick to explain what to do if someone is having a seizure: don't physically restrain them, roll them on their side, move sharp objects away, put a pillow under their head, and if it lasts more than five minutes, call an ambulance.

The publicity is nothing new for Cassidy. Her name appeared in dozens of newspapers across the world on earlier Purple Days. She's met the Queen and Prince William.

"It was exciting. I was really happy to meet her. I had a pretty long conversation with the Prince too."

Her next goal: get on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.