Shari’s journey with epilepsy began one day when she was folding clothes in her living room. Her husband was beside her, and the last thing she remembered was holding up an article of clothing to fold. The next thing she knew, a strange man was talking to her and told her she had just had a seizure. She had no idea what happened to her, and that day began her journey with epilepsy. She quickly began to realize how common epilepsy really was.
Shari had been a school teacher for her entire adult career. However, during that time, she had never learned about epilepsy or how to help someone who was having a seizure. Reflecting on this, she asks, “Why am I a teacher, been teaching my entire adult life, and I know nothing about this? And what if a child had a seizure in my classroom? I wouldn’t know the first thing to do.”
These questions unfortunately became a reality after the death of 18-year-old Kilgore High School student, Sam Watkins. Sam had been a star soccer player, honors student, and volunteer at a children’s camp. She had her first seizure at Camp Gilmont and went to the emergency room on Labor Day. Later that year, she had a fatal seizure around Thanksgiving.
Because of Sam’s death, Shari knew she had to educate the schools on how to respond to epilepsy. She called the Texas Education Agency and asked them if they would consider training teachers in epilepsy awareness and first aid. They said in order to do that, it would have to be mandated by a state law.
Not long after, Shari made an appointment with her local representative and talked to them about epilepsy facts. They encouraged her to go to Austin and present her proposal, and the Texas Senate agreed that something needed to be done to address this problem.
In June 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed Shari’s proposal into law. Now, Texas public school employees and anyone who has any contact with a student will know about epilepsy and epilepsy first aid.
Shari is proud that the proposal was able to be signed into law, and “our children are safer in school now because of Sam.”