Brette Garnatz wants to talk about the things we’re too often quiet about. Her message to others with epilepsy is think about and be active in managing your mental health. To women with epilepsy, she shares her difficulties around having a child while managing seizures.
Brette’s journey began when she was diagnosed with complex partial seizures at 20 years old. Through a combination of medication and Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), she found the right balance for seizure control. Then came the decision to start a family, which meant changes to the treatments that worked. She and her husband began talking with her doctor to make sure it was safe for them to move forward.
“We went off one of my meds that causes serious birth side effects. I started having seizures in the first trimester and through post-partum. When baby Isabell arrived she was healthy,” says Brette.
After going back to her old medication plan, her seizures stopped again, but made it clear that if she wanted to have another child the seizures would return.
“It’s really hard for me not having another kid to give Isabell a sibling. My health is crucial and I don’t want to have more seizures or put anyone else at risk with my seizures.”
Yet, it’s clear through her actions that Brette is a natural caregiver. She’s more than willing to meet with others who have epilepsy to offer help, and found a job she loves in nursing. Part of the reason she’s always helping others is because she knows how hard the journey can be without it.
She understands and stresses the importance of having supporters in your life who have epilepsy, and she actively plays that role for others.
“I have extremely supportive family and friends, but no one understands the impact of epilepsy on emotional and physical health.”
She’s spoken alongside our staff and members of our Professional Advisory Board, made up of medical professionals, to share advice about managing mental health.
“There is so much that takes a toll on one’s mental health when having epilepsy. Including not driving (how to see friends or do activities or get to work), how to function with side effects from meds (memory problems, sleepiness, weight gain, going off meds to have a kid) feeling left out of opportunities, depression, and the anxiety of having a seizure in public or at work,” says Brette.
She’s become such an important mental health advocate that our Northern MN Regional Outreach Manager Lisa Peterson asks her to be part of smaller groups with others going through similar challenges.
“I love being able to talk to others who have seizures that need support and don’t know anyone else with epilepsy. I have met a couple young ladies with epilepsy lately through Lisa, who just needed to talk with someone else in their shoes. It is so fulfilling to help someone else or just listen to another person with epilepsy, letting them know you understand and are there for them.”
Yes, Brette has played a key role in the lives of others. But equally important is she’s done it while managing big changes in her own life.
She began her treatment in La Crosse, Wisconsin, changed to the Mayo Clinic, and eventually moved to Duluth and had to find yet another neurologist. She found someone she loved, but after their retirement was back searching for a new care team.
“I look for a doctor who is kind and listens to both physical and mental health. A supportive nursing staff and easy to get ahold of using MyChart and by phone,” says Brette.
It’s no surprise to hear Brette prioritize these things in her medical care team. They also describe the mental and personal support she gives to everyone who asks for it.