Michelle Joffre was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was young, but it was not until a recent move to Georgia from her native Puerto Rico that the 43 year old finally found the help she had longed for. The Hispanic support group Grupo de Apoyo Hispano de la Epilepsia en Georgia “is like a [seeing eye] dog for a blind person,” she said.
Since discovering the support group three months ago, Joffre has helped it by creating a Facebook page and educational materials. She wants to share her story at meetings so her experience will help others who are living with epilepsy.
“Now she feels like she has people who understand her, and a purpose, that she has something to share,” said Joffre’s sister, Isabel, who explained that even though Michelle’s family always supported and helped her, she yearned to find someone who could truly relate to her condition by first-hand experience.
Enter Luz López.
López, who hails from Colombia and was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 17, founded the support group 21 years ago, as part of the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia.
“The only thing I knew about epilepsy was the word,” she said. “I knew that when I had attacks, they would last for three days at home.”
Upon moving with her family to Georgia and after conquering her fear of asking questions about her illness, López sought help from the foundation. She eventually decided to become more involved with the organization to help patients like herself.
“I realized that the only way people were going to understand was by educating them,” she said. López also emphasized that the lack of knowledge and information about epilepsy can lead to patients feeling rejected and even more vulnerable about their condition.
“Epilepsy is just a small part of who we are, but there are many more things that help us to be like human beings,” said López.
Coincidentally, both López and Joffre are teachers, a fact that brought the women even closer together.
Over the years, dozens of patients and families have benefited from the support group, including Belzay Contreras.
“I didn’t know I had epilepsy until I was 26 years old, because the neurologists didn’t detect it,” said Contreras, who is originally from Venezuela.
Her husband, Winston Rivero, has also benefited from the support and solace the group provides to not only patients, but to loved ones.
“Coming here has been a very good experience, because she had never spoken with anyone who has this condition,” said Rivero.
López, for her part, knows that the more than two decades she has spent facilitating the support group, which meets in her home in Buford on a monthly basis, is only the beginning on a long path of helping others.
“I can’t leave the group, because even if it’s just one person who calls me, that’s enough,” she said.
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CONTINUED COVERAGE Each Saturday look for a feature story from our media partners at Mundo Hispanico that highlights an aspect of the Hispanic community. For a closer look at its content, go to www.mundohispanico.com or contact editors and reporters directly at 404-881-0441.