Aaron Pura

News | 8 months ago

Life With Epilepsy: A Young Adult’s Inspiring Journey to Seizure Freedom

Aaron Pura was 21 when he experienced his first seizure. In police officer training at the time, the young adult was excited about his bright future. But soon, his seizures became more frequent and severe, completely changing the trajectory of his life.

In 2020, Aaron Pura was training at the police academy in High Point, North Carolina, and was excited about his future. Then, he had his first-ever seizure. Ten days later, he had another one.

He saw his family medicine physician, who referred him to a neurologist at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. The neurologist ran an electroencephalogram (EEG) and computed tomography (CT) scan. Aaron was diagnosed with epilepsy in July 2020, just three days after his 22nd birthday. 

“I knew things were going to change a lot for me and the path I was on was put on hold,” he says. “I knew this was going to be a new way of life for me.” 

Aaron’s seizures become more frequent and severe

Aaron began having even more seizures, so he moved in with his parents in September of that year. For nearly a year, he wasn’t able to work because of the severity of his seizures and the risk of injury from falling and loss of consciousness.

“I don’t remember a lot from that time,” he says. “My seizures got worse and I had two to three tonic-clonic seizures each week, along with drop attacks and absence seizures.”

Tonic-clonic seizures, also called grand mal seizures, cause violent muscle contractions and unconsciousness. Drop attacks, or atonic seizures, cause the muscles to suddenly relax, which can result in falls. Absence seizures are usually brief and cause lapses of consciousness.

Aaron had no warning when the seizures would occur.

“I don’t have any auras, dizziness or headaches,” he says. “The seizures would happen out of the blue.”

Epilepsy drastically affected Aaron’s quality of life.

“I had to be careful doing my normal daily activities, like going up and down the stairs, riding a bike, or using a knife while cooking,” he explains. He stopped driving and couldn’t live independently during this time.

Getting Aaron’s seizures under control

When Aaron was first diagnosed with epilepsy, his seizures weren’t well-controlled with medication. When he moved to Charlotte to live with his parents, he started seeing Dr. Lauren Feldman, a neurologist and epilepsy specialist at Atrium Health Neurology Specialty Care at Kenilworth

“I first met Aaron in the epilepsy monitoring unit, where he was admitted emergently to speed up his evaluations,” says Dr. Feldman. “His EEG [a test that measures electrical activity in the brain] was very active and he was having many seizures a day, even falling and getting injured. That required us to start him on several medications very quickly.” 

Aaron’s medical team wasn’t sure what caused him to develop epilepsy.

“I have no family history and there’s nothing on my genetic tests that stands out,” he says. “I’ve done every test known to man. I don’t have Lyme disease, my bloodwork is fine and I don’t have any tumors. Every neurologist and neurosurgeon I meet is baffled why I started having seizures.”

Feldman says seizures can occur for the first time at any age, but what was unusual about Aaron’s case is how rapidly his seizures progressed and the fact that he had multiple seizure types.

“All of his tests came back normal,” she says. “It’s a puzzle what triggered his epilepsy. In most cases, we don’t know what causes a patient’s epilepsy.”

Feldman also notes that epilepsy is relatively common.

“About 10% of people will have a seizure in their lifetime,” she says. 

The key is tailoring the right treatment approach for each patient. Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute has a dedicated weekly epilepsy conference where neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-radiologists, neuropsychologists, nurses and epilepsy navigators meet to discuss patient cases. This multidisciplinary approach helps improve outcomes for patients with complex cases like Aaron.

Finding seizure freedom

Fortunately, thanks to the right treatment, medical team and lifestyle, Aaron has been seizure-free for 18 months as of November 2023. He even started driving again after six months with no seizures.

Aaron currently takes three medications twice a day and, because his seizures are well-controlled, is about to taper off one of them. He also attributes a healthy lifestyle to helping him avoid seizures.

“I make sure I get enough sleep and try to keep my stress levels down because stress can be a trigger,” he says. “I also eat a low-carb diet and don’t eat many processed foods.”

He sees Feldman every three to six months for regular follow-ups.

“I was like a zombie before when I was having a lot of seizures,” he says. “I didn’t want to take my medications — I’ve never liked taking medicine — and didn’t understand the importance of them. I’m on a much better path now.” 

He enjoys exercising regularly, listening to music and playing the drums, which he’s done since he was 7 years old. He also plans to apply for a position as a police officer.

“Aaron has come a really long way,” says Feldman. “When I first met him, it was uncertain how we could ever get his seizures under control to the point where he could live independently again. Now, he’s working and driving again and looking at living independently. He’ll likely need medications for the rest of his life, but his prognosis is excellent.”

Aaron’s advice to others with epilepsy 

Aaron encourages others with epilepsy to not let it hold them back and to find a good support system.

“I’ve never let it define me,” he says. “And I’m grateful for everyone who’s been there for me throughout my journey, especially my parents, family and current employer.”

Learn more about epilepsy care at Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute.