‘Persevere despite your disability’

Lansdowne ward councillor, Mark Kleinschmidt, director of Epilepsy SA, Wendy Nefdt, Yumna Herman, and Gregory Hugo at the Epilepsy SA event.

Gregory Hugo had his first epileptic seizure three years ago. At the time he was 42 and in his final semester of university.

Speaking at the Epilepsy SA awareness day held at the Athlone civic centre on Thursday February 13, he described how, despite his subsequent epilepsy diagnosis and loss of memory, he pushed on with his public-management studies at Cape Peninsula University of Technology and graduated.

Gregory now motivates others to persevere and achieve their goals despite their disability, and Epilepsy Day, heralding the start of of National Epilepsy Week, helps him do just that. On that day in November 2016 when he had his first seizure at his home in Blue Downs, he was completely confused – he’d never experienced anything like it.

He woke up the next day in the Kuils River MediClinic where doctors had booked him for more than one electrocardiogram (ECG).

But by the time of his actual diagnosis, in January 2017, he was having many seizures at all times of the day. And he started finding it hard to remember things – a side effect of so many seizures.

With his memory only a fraction of what it was, he used a voice recorder to help him retrain his brain so he could study.

“During my exams, I would experience seizures, but the teachers were so lenient; they allowed me to take a break and come back inside and finish the exam. I completed my exams, and I managed to pass that year with a national diploma and I graduated.”

He now works at Statistics South Africa and does volunteer work for the Epilepsy SA team in Lansdowne. He is the chairman of Epilepsy Western Cape and is on the board of Disability Empowerment, a national non-profit organisation improving the lives of those with disabilities.

People with a disability have the power to be just as great or even greater than any able-bodied person, Gregory says.

“Everyone in life is given an envelope. The content could be good or bad. You choose what you do with that content – you are in control. Focus on that content and learn the ABC of epilepsy. Achieve, your goals, be bold in everything that you
do, and have the courage to overcome your fears by doing the things that you thought would be impossible.”

The father of three says people with epilepsy should live their lives to the fullest. “I chose to make a difference in people’s lives, and I did not allow my disability to define me.

“As people with epilepsy, we often get labelled, and we tend to believe the things people say about us. We listen to the stigmas and we think of ourselves the way they define us. We limit ourselves but we should go out and achieve our goals.”