By Deron Hamel
Sports have always been an important part of Heather Perl’s life. So when the 18-year-old was diagnosed with epilepsy at age seven, after suffering her first seizure, it was a setback for her to have to stop participating in activities she loved.
“As a kid, I was so outgoing. I don’t think there was a sport I didn’t play,” Heather says. “I played soccer, hockey, swimming, baseball and other fun sports with my schools, such as cross-country and ultimate Frisbee, to name a few.”
Heather grew up in a family of six – and everyone played sports. Her older sister was a swimmer, her brother played hockey, and Heather and her twin sister played hockey and soccer. Heather’s dad was also athletic. Her mother played baseball.
She remained athletic after her diagnosis, but Heather eventually had to stop playing hockey because she was experiencing seizures during games. Still, she managed to stay involved by being a timekeeper on the nights her sister played hockey and on weekends by timekeeping during house-league hockey games.
“This way I could still be involved with the game of hockey, which I loved to play,” she says.
Some people, Heather notes, look at their epilepsy as “an embarrassment.” But there is also a positive way of looking at the condition, she says.
She cites former NHL player Derek Morris as an example of someone who takes such an approach. It’s Morris’s career and outlook on life that Heather looks to for guidance.
Morris says he was prescribed Tegretol when he was a teenager to control his seizures, and this allowed him to play in the NHL from 1997 to 2014, amassing 424 points in 1,107 games as a defenceman for five teams.
“Morris said by experiencing it he got to learn more about epilepsy and also learned that he wasn’t the only one (living with the condition),” Heather says.
“Similar to my experience, the more research my parents and I did, I soon realized too that I also wasn’t the only one. Derek Morris showed me that even with having some challenges in your way, you can still reach your full potential and reach your dreams in life.
“Derek didn’t let seizures hold him back from going to the pros, so that shows me that I can do anything as well,” she says.
“Maybe one day I will find something to help control my seizures and help me reach my full potential.
“What Derek Morris is telling me is never give up. I will continue to learn what I can to better manage my epilepsy and be an advocate for myself and other people living with epilepsy,” she says.
Heather is one of the recipients of this year’s Osler Epilepsy Scholarship. The $1,500 scholarship, formerly called the OBCL Epilepsy Scholarship, is being offered to five students this year.
Osler Epilepsy Scholarships are awarded each year to exceptional students who have confronted and overcome remarkable barriers in their academic and personal lives due to their epilepsy.
Applicants also submit an essay about how epilepsy has impacted their lives as well as an outline of their future plans. Applicants also submit a 600- to 900-word essay about a famous person who has epilepsy and what that person’s life means to them.