Student’s epilepsy experiences fuel passion for pediatric neurology

Oct 05, 2022
Shelby Bussman (front center) hosts a Walk for Epilepsy with her Derby community. (Courtesy photo)

First-year Newman student Shelby Bussman spent her senior year at Derby High School bringing awareness to a disorder that she has a personal experience with: epilepsy.

During Bussman’s senior year, students were assigned capstone projects that required them to write a research paper on a topic they chose and find a way to present the topic to the community or build awareness.

“I have this background and history with epilepsy so I decided that I was going to focus on epilepsy with children and how it affects their mental health, academic performance and social skills,” Bussman said.

Shelby Bussman (Courtesy photo)
Shelby Bussman (Courtesy photo)

Through her capstone project, she was able to host an Epilepsy Awareness Walk that took place April 9 at the High Park Amphitheatre in Derby. During the walk, Bussman spoke about epilepsy and how it affects a child’s development.

Bussman successfully raised more than $1,000 from donations and T-shirt sales to fund research at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where she would eventually have her brain surgery. 

Bussman is now a student at Newman University, where she is a biology major with a concentration in pre-medicine.

Though she is just starting her college experience, she plans to take her personal experiences and pursue a career she loves.

Overcoming personal obstacles

When Bussman was only 2, she was diagnosed with partial complex epilepsy after having a grand mal seizure.

At first, she was prescribed epileptic medication, but after some years doctors believed she had improved to the point where medication was no longer needed. Over time, after not being on the medication, Bussman began to develop stomach aches that eventually came with more seizures.

“My parents just thought it was growing pains, saying, ‘oh you’ll get over it over time,’ but (the stomach aches) kept on happening more frequently and became more severe until I actually had my first seizure since my grand mal seizure,” Bussman said. 

The first grand mal seizure occurred when Bussman was shopping with her mom. Her mom didn’t realize what was happening. She grabbed Bussman and ran out of the store believing she was throwing a tantrum, Bussman said.

“Once we got to the car, my mom was yelling at me because she didn’t understand why I was acting that way,” Bussman explained. “When I came out of (the seizure) and got back to my awareness and surroundings, I became confused with what had just happened. Once my mom saw that I didn’t understand what transpired in the store, she realized we needed to go see the doctor.”

The doctors found that Bussman’s brain was damaged from part of the right frontal lobe to part of the occipital lobe. At first, they were unsure how the damage occurred and put her back on medication. Later, the doctors determined that brain surgery was the only way to get rid of Bussman’s condition.

In the years leading up to the surgery, Bussman suffered more seizures, as well as depression from other medications. 

Bussman's Walk for Epilepsy featured tables with more information about pediatric epilepsy. (Courtesy photo)
Bussman’s Epilepsy Awareness Walk featured tables with more information about pediatric epilepsy. (Courtesy photo)

Thankfully, on March 10, 2017, Bussman underwent brain surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. In the procedure, the surgeons removed a lemon-sized piece of her right frontal lobe. Since then, she has been seizure-free. 

“I’m now able to drive and do all these things that I wasn’t able to do prior to the surgery,” Bussman said.

Once Bussman graduates from Newman in 2026, she plans to apply to University of Kansas School of Medicine where she hopes to pursue a career in pediatric neurology.

“I’m wanting to specialize in pediatric neurology and that bascially ties back to my experience with a neurological disease,” Bussman said. “It became my passion in life.” 

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