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From the Rush Archives: National Epilepsy Awareness Month: First Lady Hillary Clinton visits the Rush Epilepsy Center, 1999

by Nathalie Wheaton on 2020-11-10T14:00:00-06:00 in History, Archives | Comments

-Post assisted by Rush Archives Work Study Student Kirsten Petrarca, Doctoral Student in Audiology, Rush University.

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month!

1999 was a particularly active time for the Rush Epilepsy Center, which was founded in 1972. In January 1999, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the Rush Epilepsy Center to dedicate a new epilepsy monitoring unit. And that same year, the Rush Epilepsy Center established the Epilepsy Education and Outreach Initiative, which was developed by Philip Gattone, Sr., the father of a young Rush epilepsy patient.


FROM the January 1999 issue of Rush's NewsRounds newsletter, "Hillary Rodham Clinton Visits Rush" [1]:

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton with Rush president, Leo Henikoff, MD, dedicates new epilepsy monitoring unit, 1999In 1999, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Rush to dedicate a new epilepsy monitoring unit at the Rush Epilepsy Center. The six-room unit was named in memory of Frank Morrell, MD, who found the Rush Epilepsy Center in 1972. 

Morrell and Rush neurosurgeon Walter Whisler, MD, PhD, developed a surgery called multiple subpial transection, which offered hope to certain epilepsy patients who couldn't be helped by traditional medical or surgical means. Patients who have benefited from this surgery include many children with a form of epilepsy called Landau-KIeffner syndrome, which affects the area of the brain responsible for speech and language comprehension. 

Mrs. Clinton toured the Rush Epilepsy Center with its director, Michael Smith, MD, and Rush President and CEO Leo M. Henikoff, MD [PHOTO-LEFT]. The Epilepsy Center is one of the nation’s most comprehensive facilities for diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of epilepsy. 

Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder characterized by seizures that disrupt communication between brain cells. It affects more than 2.3 million Americans [in 1999. According to the CDC, as of 2015, 3.1 million Americans have epilepsy.] People can develop the disease at any age. 

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton dedicates a new monitoring unit, Rush Epilepsy Center, 1999To help improve available treatments, Mrs. Clinton announced that the federal government would be increasing epilepsy research funding. She announced it would grow from $54 million in 1995, to a projected $76 million in 1999. In the next year, the National Institute of Health planned to convene 150 experts for the first-ever White House initiated conference on epilepsy. 

Mrs. Clinton also emphasized the need for educating the public about epilepsy: 

“While most people with epilepsy today can thankfully control their seizures, even they must live with something they cannot control: the cruel social stigma and stereotyping that comes with widespread ignorance of this disorder,” she said. "That can damage the spirit as much as the seizures themselves damage the brain. Clearly, we have to do a better job of educating ourselves and of increasing awareness among all Americans."


FROM the April/May issue of Rush's NewsRounds newsletter, “A little understanding goes a long way: Educating the public about epilepsy” [2]:

In 1999, the Epilepsy Education and Outreach Initiative was started at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center*. This initiative was not begun by a health specialist at Rush, but by the father of a Rush patient.

Philip Gattone, Jr., was a second grader with epilepsy who experienced seizures in school, making it difficult to keep up with his peers. When his parents found out that he was becoming isolated at school, they decided to visit his class and help his classmates better understand what he was experiencing.

Philip Gattone, Jr., visits a Chicago Bulls game, 1999CAPTION: Philip Gattone, Jr., gets an autograph at a Chicago Bulls game from player Bill Wennington. From NewsRounds, April/May 1999.

Following this experience, Philip Gattone, Sr., created the Center for Epilepsy Education. Philip Jr. later underwent two surgeries at Rush which stopped his seizures, and Mr. Gattone was invited by Michael Smith, MD, the director of the Rush Epilepsy Center, to run the center’s epilepsy education and outreach initiative.

Philip Gattone, Sr., served as director of education in Rush's department of neurology for a few years before moving on to administrative roles in the Epilepsy Foundation, eventually serving as its President and CEO.

The Epilepsy Center at Rush continues to provide expert, comprehensive services. As a level 4 National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC) epilepsy center, Rush University Medical Center meets the highest standards for seizure diagnosis and care. Rush specializes in treating seizures that do not respond to medication (or, intractable epilepsy).

To learn more about the Epilepsy Center, visit their webpage: www.rush.edu/services/epilepsy-center

*Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center was renamed Rush University Medical Center in 2003, to better reflect its status as a leading academic research center. 

Want to learn more about the history of Rush or the Rush Archives collections? Explore the Rush Archives website, or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS. Follow us on Twitter! @RushArchives

All documents and photographs belong to the records collections of Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill. Contact the archivist for permissions and full citations.

[1] archive.org/details/newsrounds19991999rush/mode/2up

[2] archive.org/details/newsrounds19991999rush/page/n33/mode/2up/


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