"I was diagnosed in the third grade,” Kukura said. "I would just space out, then come out of it feeling cold and hungry.”
She said her black-out spells were picked up by the teacher, who immediately informed Samantha’s parents. They in turn took her for a medical evaluation and discovered she suffered from epileptic seizures referred to as “absence seizures.”
In an absence seizure, the patient simply blacks out. They appear out of it and don’t respond. Samantha called it being spaced out.
“When I was diagnosed, I had to spend several days at Tod’s Childrens Hospital. They observed me and took EEG readings of my brian patterns.”
“Unfortunately, babies and children are our largest group to be diagnosed,” said Janet Mau from Mahoning Valley Epilepsy.
Mau said on the plus side, early diagnosis and treatment can help ease the seizures and their severity as the person grows into adulthood. For Samantha, that was the case. Between the third and sixth grades in Boardman schools, Samantha had several seizures. Teachers were made aware of her condition and were trained in how to handle it.
On the down side, the seizures affected her learning ability. She said typically a student with epilepsy has a slower learning pace than others. She had to get a tutor in order to keep up, which meant putting in extra learning hours. She was dedicated to graduating and took the extra steps.
After graduating from Boardman, Samantha enrolled in Interactive Multimedia classes at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center in Canfield. She said, even though she was seizure free since the sixth grade, the teacher at MCCTC still took steps for the entire class regarding Samantha’s epilepsy.
“When I first came to MCCTC, there was a person who had a grand mal seizure,” she said. “Now it is part of the class safety program to have everyone given a quick lesson on what to do.”
While she is glad to have been seizure free for so long, she does realize that seizures can return unannounced at anytime. While she understands that fact, she doesn’t let it run her life. She is employed at JCPenney in the Mall, at the Canfield McDonald's, and currently sells Mary Kay products.
“I hope to have a pink Cadillac someday,” she said.
As if her three jobs and schooling weren’t enough, she also partakes in the art of belly dancing.
“Samantha is a belly dancer, which is a good thing,” Mau said. “It is good because of the balance it takes to do it. We advocate staying physically active.”
Samantha takes her dancing to events such as the annual Rocking Chair event in Austintown that brings awareness of epilepsy to the public. She has been known to perform her dances at the event.
“I am working with Mahoning Valley Epilepsy to be an advocate for those with the disorder,” Samantha said. “I want to encourage young people with epilepsy to continue to be positive, be compliant with their meds and keep an open mind. They too may be able to be seizure free some day.”
Samantha loves talking to others suffering through epilepsy. She wants to give them hope and peace of mind by being a role model of how to live with the disorder.
“If you don’t have someone to talk to about epilepsy, then you could be living in a bubble,” Mau said. “Realizing that others have it too can help one to deal with it better.”
Mau said in Mahoning County alone, roughly 5,000 residents have been diagnosed with epilepsy. She said the actual number may be higher with those who have not been diagnosed yet.
Mau said a good website to check out and learn more about epilepsy is www.epilepsyadvocate.com.
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Samantha Kukura, a 2011 Boardman graduate, is an active young lady who is doing her part at getting the message out about epilepsy. Through early diagnosis and treatment, she has been seizure free since the sixth grade.