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Personal Stories: Letitia and Patients Like Me

My name is Letitia Browne-James, and I have had epilepsy all my life. Until I started to empower myself about my own care I was unsure that I would ever be cured. After my illness continued to get worse and the seizures more violent while I was trying to live life, I decided to look online for possible solutions because my experience with previous doctors continued to be frustrating and led to dead ends.. Finally, after a few months of research , I was equipped to ask the right questions, to demand better treatment, and even undergo a surgery that I originally didn’t even know existed.

At the age of 10, I was formally diagnosed with epilepsy, and I spent my life, through school and at work, suffering from seizures that continued to get worse. Years went by with multiple doctors and consults both nationally and internationally, leaving me frustrated and confused because the seizures were no longer appearing on scans and they continued to get more violent and frequent.

Eventually, I began doing my own research about my medical care and joined an online resource for patients called PatientsLikeMe. I learned that there were other options available, such as a 72 hour EEG that could detect what type of seizures I was having. My involvement with PatientsLikeMe eventually led me to find out about an epileptologist – a doctor specializing in epileptic care. My epileptologist performed tests that led him to accurately diagnose the type of seizures I was having. From there, I learned that I was a candidate for epilepsysurgery that I hadn’t heard about since I was about 10-years-old. . Prior to surgery, I asked many questions and went through a series of tests to make sure that surgery was the right procedure for me. And since my surgery in August 2012, I have been seizure free and I feel better than ever.

My experience with the medical care system and my efforts to be an empowered patient taught me a few things. Empowerment includes continuous collaboration and effort, not only from a medical team, but from us, the patients. If you are not happy with the care you are receiving or you feel like something is not right at any point in the process, it is important to empower yourself to research your treatment options, talk to other patients with the same condition to get ideas of what has worked for them as well as social support, and speak out when you questions about the care being provided to you. The truth is, each patient is different, and every medical team should work for the individual person – not for the diagnosis. Solutions that work for one subset of patients do not necessarily work for all patients; the best treatment for the average patient is not necessarily the best for you.

Throughout my journey to find a solution for epilepsy, I developed my own passion – helping patients know that they do have a voice when it comes to medical decisions. I serve as a patient research advisor with 13 other patients for PatientsLikeMe. This experience has allowed me to continue my passion in an environment that prioritizes patient-centeredness and patient empowerment. And the results speak for themselves. When patients are engaged in the decision-making process regarding their care, they experience better health outcomes and lower costs, while also developing trust in their providers.

Shared decision-making in the medical process cannot be ignored as the healthcare industry is making decisions on what treatments we should be able to access. Patients have to understand their options and make an active choice in their care to get the most out of their treatment. Patient preferences should matter to our healthcare team. And if it doesn’t, we should be empowered to find a different health care provider. As I’ve often said when speaking about patient empowerment: your doctor may be the expert in medicine, but only you are the expert on you.

Read more at Patients Like Me.

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