LOS ANGELES — On the surface, Occidental College women's lacrosse captain Lauren Wemple (Needham, Mass.) is about as articulate and confident as a 22-year-old woman can be. The diplomacy and world affairs major is a member of the community health engagement group at Oxy, she's one of the better student-athletes on campus and after graduation this spring she's headed to graduate school at UCLA to specialize in public health.
She has a lot going for her.
But beneath the senior's bright personality and mature presentation lies a constant battle she's been fighting her entire life.
Wemple has epilepsy.
"I had my first big seizure when I was 13 (years-old) in my eighth grade classroom, but my parents say there were signs way before that," she said.
|Purple Game Women's Lacrosse, April 13 Oxy vs. Pomona-Pitzer -- 1 p.m. Jack Kemp Stadium|
You wouldn't know though unless she told you or unless you witnessed one of her seizures.
"That's the thing about epilepsy. There's such a range of what your seizures could be like," Wemple said. "Just when I think I'm good, I still don't know. I could drop when I walk into the room."
Wemple's symptoms progressively got worse to the point where she had to be hospitalized at the end of high school.
"Finally when I was 18, I had a massive seizure. It was the day after I graduated from high school. I fell in the shower, I had to be rushed to the children's hospital and it was really messy because I grew up in Boston and three weeks later we were moving to the Bay Area," Wemple said. "I couldn't start seeing a neurologist in Boston because I wasn't going to be living there and I was going to school at Oxy."
She tried different medications. Some worked, some didn't.
She kept trying to shrug off the problem, but she just couldn't ignore it and it started to effect her speech patterns.
"I started having this thing where I couldn't find a word or I couldn't understand a word," Wemple said, adding that it was especially embarrassing when it would happen in the middle of a class discussion. "I would have to stop a sentence because I couldn't find the next word."
She was having what are called simple partials, a more subtle and frequent seizure that was hindering her daily life.
Her condition came to a head again when she had a convulsive seizure causing her to collapse while speaking to a group of 50 Kaiser Permanente interns last year.
"The last thing I remember was not being able to control my hand shaking and then I woke up in an ambulance," Wemple said. "That's when I realized, 'you're 21-years old and you can't really hide this anymore.'"
She worked with doctors, had various tests done and they finally nailed it down to a hot spot on her brain where the occipital lobe meets the temporal lobe, effecting the part of the brain that deals with language. It explained the unexplained difficulties she would have when speaking or writing.
Wemple and doctors are constantly switching up her medication regimen to find the most workable and livable solution for her. Right now she says she's doing very well, only having a seizure once every couple of weeks.
"Since then, I've been really good," she said. "I have a seizure once every three weeks. That's a huge improvement."
Led by Wemple, the Oxy women's lacrosse team is joining the fight against epilepsy. On April 13, when the Tigers host Pomona-Pitzer at Jack Kemp Stadium at 1 p.m. they'll be sporting purple warm up shirts, laces, socks and other purple gear to help raise awareness about the condition that one in 23 people live with.
"We have a passionate and engaged group of young women who bring significant leadership to the Oxy community," Oxy women's lacrosse coach Michele Uhlfelder said. "Lauren is a great example of this and she has guided us through her experience with epilepsy and her relationship with the Epilepsy Foundation. She is an impressive young woman and her focus on living life to the fullest while managing epilepsy is inspiring."
The Tigers will be putting on bake sales in the quad around lunchtime next week on Wednesday and Friday with the proceeds going to the Epilepsy Foundation of Los Angeles. The Tigers will also be honoring the Belinger-Aquino Family at the game, whose oldest daughter Sophia has severe epilepsy.
"We are very proud and excited to be working with Lauren on the ground floor of the Purple Game," Uhlfelder said. "She has stepped up and championed this event. Thanks to her organization and efforts we will be able to build a bond with a family and bring awareness though an annual game. At Occidental Lacrosse we are used to starting things and building momentum, and now we are excited to play a part in ending something--end epilepsy."
Just as Wemple has learned to acknowledge and live with her epilepsy, she wants to help others do the same.
"When people think of epilepsy, they think of people shaking. That's not how all cases are," she said. "I'm going to help people that didn't get as good of help as me."