Ottawa student won’t let epilepsy interfere with her dreams, says former U.S. president has inspired her

August 28, 2018

By Deron Hamel

Bronwyn Clifton is gearing up to start classes in the concurrent education program at Queen’s University in September, an accomplishment she didn’t think was possible nine months ago after suffering her first tonic-clonic seizure. But Bronwyn has lived with epilepsy for 12 years and has always persevered, sometimes looking to others for inspiration, she says.

Bronwyn Clifton, one of five recipients of this year’s Osler Epilepsy Scholarship, is seen here holding her award alongside Elisa McFarlane, an Epilepsy Ontario volunteer and member of the Osler Epilepsy Scholarship selection committee.

Bronwyn was diagnosed with absence seizure epilepsy in autumn 2006, shortly after starting Grade 1. Her mother had noticed Bronwyn was having seizures and took her to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, where it was discovered she was having absence seizures. Absence seizures are characterized by brief lapses in consciousness.

At such a young age, Bronwyn says she didn’t understand how her condition would affect her life. Growing up, she says she found herself limited to the activities she could participate in with friends. Swimming in the deep end of pools or bicycling without supervision were out of the question, she says.

“I felt different, weird, excluded,” she recalls. “I felt like I was missing out on the happiness and fun my friends were experiencing.”

This is where Bronwyn says she can relate to what life must have been like for Theodore Roosevelt, who served as the 26th U.S. president. Roosevelt also had epilepsy. He went through childhood during the 1860s and 1870s, a time when people were “condemned by society” if they had a seizure disorder, Bronwyn says.

The tie that binds, Bronwyn says, is that she and Roosevelt “lived (their) lives trying not to acknowledge a barrier which we experienced daily.”

Roosevelt, she notes, had many accomplishments before becoming U.S. president. He was a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School. He was also a noted conservationist.

In November 2017, Bronwyn suffered her first tonic-clonic seizure. After this seizure, Bronwyn was concerned about her future. She had wanted to go to Queen’s for many years and now didn’t think she would be able to make the move to Kingston from her home in Ottawa. But then she turned to Roosevelt for inspiration, and things changed.

“Roosevelt did not let his epilepsy stop him, and I will never let mine stop me,” she says.

Bronwyn is one of the recipients of this year’s Osler Epilepsy Scholarship. The $1,500 scholarship, formerly called the OBCL Epilepsy Scholarship, is being offered to five students this year.

Osler Epilepsy Scholarships are awarded each year to exceptional students who have confronted and overcome remarkable barriers in their academic and personal lives due to their epilepsy.

Applicants also submit a 600- to 900-word essay, about a famous person who has epilepsy and what that person’s life means to them.

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