Last weekend, we participated in the Epilepsy Foundation National Walk for Epilepsy in Washington, D.C. It was so different from the first time we attended two years ago. That year, we were only a few months in to our diagnosis and had only recently gotten out of the hospital. We were physically and emotionally drained and couldn’t even complete the shorter “fun course”. While it should have been comforting, I felt overwhelmed to being surrounded by so many people supporting a cause that we knew little about and were thrust in to.
This year was a completely different experience. We knew other people at the walk. We met some online friends in person for the first time. We saw people from our local Epilepsy Foundation affiliate. And there was a sense that this really was our community of people trying to make life better for my son and other’s like him.
It was a lot for my son to take in, too. He was excited when we got there, but the more people we talked to and the more he was exposed to the energy around him, we could see him start to shut down. Right before we started the walk, he slipped in to his “wonky place.” His eyes glazed over and he tried to run away, but I help him and sat with him long enough for him to calm down. He reluctantly started the walk, and I could feel that we were teetering on the edge of a full meltdown. But a quarter of the way in, we passed the Washington Monument that he recognized from the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie. I started talking about the movie and, a few minutes later, he started engaging in the conversation and I could see the tension leave his body. By the end of the walk, he was sprinting across the finish line to officially complete our first National Walk.
If you haven’t done either the National Walk or an event from your local Epilepsy Foundation affiliate, I encourage you to try it. The first one might be overwhelming, but it’s important to know that there are others like you out there, and that there are people and companies that are working hard to improve the quality of life for people living with epilepsy. We are involved with the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania, so if you live in that area, you’ll know at least one family at the event, which can make it easier. But if you don’t, go to at least one event and you’ll start building those connections to other families and it can turn a sometimes isolating condition in to one of community. You are not alone.
We went to Florida recently to visit friends and to see our family. My son’s nanny from when things were at their worst had moved to Miami with her family. On our last few trips, we flew in to see them before heading over to see my parents.
In addition to her understanding our son’s history, they are just good, generous people who are part of our family now. They moved away just over a year ago and have established themselves in their new city. They have a child of their own now that she takes care of and her husband has a good job. We stayed with them at an adorable house they bought not far from the city. They took us to the beach and to different eateries nearby. We got a glimpse of their new life in their new home.
One night while we were down there, my wife started crying. She said she felt like we were stuck in the same life while everyone else’s lives move on. I felt the same way.
Maybe it was the tropical air and the palm trees, but I thought of the Tom Hank’s movie Castaway. In it, the main character survives a plane crash only to be stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean. Years go by until he is eventually rescued. When he returns to civilization, he finds that the world has moved on without him. Technology has advanced. Friends have moved on with their own lives.
The world is moving on without us. Our lives may be slightly better or slightly worse in some areas compared to previous years. I have a new job and we have a new house but, as a whole, it feels like the same life. We’re still struggling with a sick kid, with seizures, with behavior issues. We’re still dealing with school, and doctors, and appointments, and therapies. We’re still making food for the ketogenic diet and picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy.
Maybe it feels this way because we’re still in the middle of it. It’s hard to feel like you’ve moved on when you aren’t able to let go of anything from the past. When everything is present, there is no moving on. When you wake up and have the same day over and over again, you’re like the character in the movie, stranded on an island while the rest of the world moves on without you.
My wife and I were honored as the King and Queen of the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania’s Mardi Gras Galas. The Gala is the signature fundraising event of the foundation and brings together Philadelphia’s top neurologists, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and members from its business and legal communities to celebrate the Foundation and its accomplishments to improve the quality of life of individuals living with epilepsy and their caregivers.
We were joined at the Gala by an extended table full of our family and friends. There were people at our table that made my son better and that made our lives better. There were people at our table that gave us hope and made us feel like we were not alone. There were people at our table that gave my son a chance made him feel special and normal at the same time. Instead of seeing a sick kid, they saw a baseball player, a jokester, and a dancer. But mostly, they saw a child. And they let him be himself and accepted him for who he was. That is a gift that I can never repay, and having our table full of those people…our people…made that night even more special.
Good evening. We are honored to be here with you all tonight. My name is David Monnerat. This is my wife Kerri, and this is our son.
[Our son: Hi, Is everybody having a great time??]
Our journey with epilepsy started 3 years ago when we moved from Colorado to Philadelphia. Two miles away from where we are tonight, Mitchell had his first seizure. For many of you in this room, you know how scary that can be. We were alone in a new city with no support and found ourselves locked in the hospital watching our son slip away, fighting a battle against an enemy that seemed determined to take him from us.
We have never been so scared, we have never felt so alone. But little did we know, our journey couldn’t have started in a better place. I always say, “We don’t believe there is a malevolent force working against us, a trick of fate where we drew the short straw and our son got sick! We believe this is our path and everyone has “something”. That being said, I am more certain now than ever that there is a force, an energy, a God that ensured we were given every possible gift to help keep us going through this journey. We were given this wonderful city, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania, and the system of support that has come to form our village who are sturdy and enduring, loving and true.
There are people in this room that saved our son’s life.
There are people in this room that put our son back together.
There are people in this room that made him a part of a team.
There are people in this room that have become family.
If you ever wonder if these things you do ever make a difference to anyone, I’m here to tell you that the answer to that question is “yes”.
Thank you for the honor. Thank you for your support for the foundation and for this community. Our community.