VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Lowell Evans has been overcoming epilepsy since he was 20 years old.
Now as regional director for the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, he said, "I wanted to prove to everybody that I was 'normal.'"
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes sudden seizures. Evans was diagnosed more than 40 years ago after he had a fall in college. He hit his head while playing basketball at Virginia Wesleyan University in 1980.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, more people live with epilepsy than with autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy combined.
Dr. Linda Bright, the Vice President of Client Services for the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, said, "A lot of people don't want to talk about it because they're embarrassed that they have it."
Dr. Bright has held many titles for the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, including president. Serving for six years, she was one of only two African Americans to hold the position.
She said Black History Month is a time to bring the conversation surrounding epilepsy into all households.
"I think in the Black community we really don't talk about it as much," she said. "I think we need to access whatever is available to us to get the word out: Our churches, our PTA meetings [and] in the school system."
However, both Bright and Evans believe there's a stigma associated with talking about the disorder.
"With African Americans, they say, 'Well, look, I can't tell people this. I won't get a job; I won't get this.' I say, 'Well, what if you're in a job and you have a seizure and somebody doesn't know what to do? They don't know how to turn you on your side so you won't choke,'" Evans said.
According to the EFVA and CDC, about 637,000 African Americans have been told by a physician or health care professional that they had epilepsy or a seizure disorder. About 375,000 African Americans have active epilepsy, which means they have been told they have epilepsy or a seizure disorder and are taking seizure medication or had at least one seizure in the past year.
There are also more than 40 types of seizures, which is why the foundation is pushing for more people to understand the warning signs.
"I just don't think it's one of those topics that's going to be asked about, so we need to present and every opportunity that we can," Bright said.
Evans added by saying, "Life goes on, so you just have to take it and keep going."