Seizures cause disruption in Joyner man’s life

Published 9:59 am Friday, March 14, 2014

JOYNER—A Joyner man and his family are experiencing an especially difficult time in their lives. A run of seizures on and off since 2012 has ultimately cost him his job, his health, the ability to drive and soon, his home.

Seizures have prevented Brooks Johnson from driving and working. Friends are hosting a fundraiser to help him and his family. The dinner sale takes place April 5. -- STEPHEN H. COWELS | TIDEWATER NEWS

Seizures have prevented Brooks Johnson from driving and working. Friends are hosting a fundraiser to help him and his family. The dinner sale takes place April 5. — STEPHEN H. COWELS | TIDEWATER NEWS

Brooks Johnson, 46, said the first episode he experienced was much like a stroke; the left side of his body was paralyzed and his speech was slurred, but both were temporary.

“The first two times the hospital couldn’t find anything,” he said.

After an attack in 2013, a neurologist attempted to trigger an episode through the use of strobe light. The partial seizure was diagnosed that Johnson had Todd’s Paralysis and Hemiplegic Migraine.

Since Johnson didn’t have epilepsy while growing up, doctors suggested that a severe head trauma could be the source.

“It could have happened during service, I just can’t remember,” said Johnson, who served in Operation Desert Storm.

A graduate of Southampton High School, he went on to serve four years in the Army Infantry, earned the rank of sergeant, graduated from sniper school, and got an honorable discharge.

On his return home, Johnson took up farming and became involved in his community.

“Everything was going great,” he said about life before the attacks began.

“I was real active in the Holland District Ruritans, and made zone governor,” he said. “I would rather volunteer. It’s hard and humbling to ask for help.”

Insult has been heaped on injury with the denial of his disability claims. The appeal process eventually required hiring a lawyer, but there’s no certainty if or when there’ll be a hearing.

“Any veteran before 9-11, there’s nothing there for us. It’s wrong…especially for Vietnam veterans,” said Johnson. “It’s been a real struggle the past couple of years.”

Last summer, one episode put him into Obici Hospital for a 1-1/2 weeks.

A seizure on Jan. 14 of this year put him into a VA hospital in Richmond through March 6. The hope was that Johnson would experience an attack that “could really be captured.”

As a result of the seizures, the peripheral vision in the left eye is blocked, and short-term memory has also been impaired.

To treat all his ailments, said Johnson, requires 15 pills a day. One interesting side effect is they’ve lowered his high blood pressure.

Although he can now sense an attack – there’s a tingling on lower left side of his lip about 20 to 30 minutes before – the unpredictability of the seizures has cost him his license to drive any vehicle. With that, he hasn’t been able to work or pay rent on the home.

The landlord, said Johnson, has been quite generous since the episodes interfered, but can only afford to give him a couple more months before the family has to find another home.

Shannon, his wife, is seeking to get her Virginia driver’s license. Brittany, the oldest daughter, has a disability that prevents her from working. Ashley, the other daughter, is working and also going to the community college.

“I’ve been struggling,” Johnson said, and admitted that thoughts of suicide have crept in along with his depression.

But he’s not giving into despair.

“God has a plan for everybody, and He’ll take you near to the end,” said Johnson. “I’ve questioned my faith, but it’s not shaken.”

As Johnson seeks to find relief for his situation, friends are also looking to help.

Peggy Cheek of Sedley said a sale of Brunswick stew and barbecue is planned for Saturday, April 5, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the American Legion on Armory Drive in Franklin.

Tickets are $7 each for either a quart of stew or a pound of barbecue. For tickets, call Carroll Cannon at 653-8714, or Jean Stephenson at 641-9323.

“We are just people who have met this man,” said Cheek. “He has always given to the community, such as the Food bank, and now he’s on the other end of the stick.

“It’s been hard for him, and we see a genuine need.”