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Life is a Gift For as long as Sasha could remember, epilepsy had ruled her life. At school, the kids avoided her. As a young woman, her best friend was embarrassed by her. And now, the attacks were coming more often, lasting longer - and threatening her life - until doctors came up with a surprising solution . . .

The moment her eyes fell upon the engraved envelope, 21-year old Sasha knew exactly what was inside.

Her friend, Kim, was getting married. "You'll be my bridesmaid," Kim had promised her back when they were in high school. "And you'll be mine," Sasha would smile.

But a year after graduation, when Kim announced her engagement, the question never came. Maybe there's a note asking me to be a bridesmaid, Sasha thought as she tore open the envelope. But all it said was Sasha and guest.

Why would she do this to me? Sasha cried. But in her heart, she knew: Kim's afraid I'll embarrass her.

For as long as Sasha could remember, epileptic seizures had ruled her life. And lately, they'd been coming more frequently. How long can I go on like this? she wept.

Born into a loving home in [San Diego, California], Sasha had been a healthy, happy child. But around the age of three, she started experiencing a sudden strange sense of terror mixed with loneliness. Then for several moments, she'd just stare blankly, unable to speak or respond.

"Mommy," she'd cry when it was over. "I had the bad feeling again"

"It's stress," a specialist told her worried parents. But to Sasha, it was a nightmare that kept repeating. As years passed, she recognized what might bring it on - a loud noise, a crowd, a bright light . . .

The fair was alive with sights and sounds the night 11-year old Sasha and two friends left the stage after a baton twirling performance. The girls were talking and giggling when Sasha's eyes were drawn to a strobe light on an amusement ride.

But instead of a momentary pause . . . "Sasha!" her friends screamed as she collapsed and began convulsing. "Get her parents!"

At the hospital, Sasha cried, "My head hurts." "You have epilepsy," the doctor explained to Sasha and her parents. "For years, you've had what are like tiny firecrackers going off inside your brain, or petit mal attacks. But this one, called a grand mal seizure, was bigger. We'll give you medicine to try to stop them."

As time went on, Sasha struggled to cope with the effects of her epilepsy. The friends who saw her collapse at the fair avoided her in school. "I have seizures," she told them. "If you see me spacing out, don't think I'm weird!"

But the girls kept their distance. And the medication did nothing to control the petit mals, which Sasha experienced up to 20 times a day. Doctors changed her medication, adjusted the dose. And all the while, Sasha worried when the next seizure might send her crashing to the floor.

When it happened at home, she'd find herself with a loving family. But when it happened at school, she'd find herself surrounded by the students who had shunned her. Yet Sasha, desperate to be a normal teenager, went out for team sports. "Mom, I want to show them that I'm really not different." But that's not what her soccer teammates thought. "Kick the ball!" they shouted angrily as petit mals paralyzed Sasha in mid-play. "What's wrong with you?"

There was just one classmate she could count on. "We'll always be friends," Kim would say. "Remember," Sasha would smile, "we're each other's bridesmaids, right?"

Just like every young girl, Sasha had plans. But after her high school graduation, she grew more reliant on her parents to drive her places. All the while, the petit mals came more often and lasted longer. And she lived in fear they might erupt into a grand mal.

And now, Kim's invitation arrived. I can't go, Sasha thought sadly. She doesn't want me there anyway.

Then a few months later, 21-year old Sasha was home alone when the familiar feeling began to overtake her. Except this would be much, much worse . . . I need help! she panicked, stumbling to her neighbor's house. "Come quickly!" the neighbor phoned Sasha's mother.

Unlike Sasha's previous attacks, this first severe seizure was followed by another, stronger one. Twitching, Sasha finally lay still. "Help her!" Sasha's father cried as he carried his daughter into the ER.

But while this was the worst attack of her life, it would turn out to be Sasha's blessing. Because like aftershocks following an earthquake, her petit mals came in torrents - allowing doctors to trace the attacks by EEG and, for the first time, pinpoint where the "misfirings" originated.

"Now that we know where the problem area is," doctors told her, "we can help." The doctors explained that it's possible to stop seizures by removing that area of her brain. Take out part of my brain? she worried.

It was risky, they told her. There was a chance of hearing, language or memory loss - even death. "But continuing to have these seizures," they told her, "can cause brain damage. And a violent attack could kill you." Sasha's breath caught in her throat. I want to live! her heart screamed. And I want to live without fear.

On the day of the surgery, Sasha was wheeled into the OR at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Stephen Haines and his team opened a window in Sasha's skull above her left ear, then planted electrodes on her brain. For four days, Sasha had equipment monitoring her brain to confirm the trouble spot. Then, Dr. Haines removed a four-centimeter section of tissue.

Back in her room, Sasha couldn't lift her swollen head from the pillow, but managed to say "I love you" to her parents.

At first, Sasha was petrified the surgery hadn't been successful, bracing herself for a seizure she feared would strike. "Time will tell," doctors said.

But one day, when Sasha realized she'd gone all day without even thinking about a seizure once, she thought, It's true. I really can begin to live . . . I'm free!

The following April, at her brother's wedding, Sasha was a radiant bridesmaid. Today, Sasha is still seizure-free. "Now I can do all the things I missed out on in life," Sasha says.

"I've got all this energy, I can't slow down."

Look out world, here I come!

� Fitz Randolph
Woman's World Magazine, reprinted with permission from Sasha
Sasha's World