Quesnel’s Natasha Wasmuth, left, poses with her neurosurgeon and VGH head of surgery Dr. Gary Redekip, middle, and VGH Foundation president and CEO Barbara Grantham at VGH Foundation Gala November 2017. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Cariboo woman raises funds for Seizure Investigation Unit beds at VGH

VGH Foundation gets VCH approval to begin fundraising for SIU beds; local efforts are paying off

Quesnel’s Natasha Wasmuth has suffered with epilepsy for the past 20 years.

In 2011 during a consult with one of Vancouver General Hospital’s (VGH) epileptologists, she learned that with only two Seizure Investigation Unit (SIU) beds for adults in the entire province, she could be waiting up to two years to be admitted to determine if brain surgery would benefit her.

As her seizures became progressively more out of control, Natasha was admitted to the SIU after just 14 months and it was determined to be a surgical candidate.

The purpose of the VGH SIU is to determine brain surgery candidacy, but it also helps specialists diagnose and treat the more complex cases.

Since the SIU was launched in 1979, there has been little additional funding or provincial support. British Columbia is the third largest province and one of the least funded for epilepsy treatment and research, and although more than 32,000 adults in B.C. have epilepsy and more than 7,000 are possible surgery candidates, the number of SIU beds has remained at two.

Although life would soon be altered in an extreme way, Natasha couldn’t stop thinking about the lack of funding for such vital equipment and services.

Through research, she learned, due primarily to red tape, the addition of beds in the SIU was not a priority at the time. This galvanized the Quesnel woman to do something about that.

In 2014, six months post surgery, Natasha founded epilepsyQuesnel (eQ) to start raising funds for SIU beds three and four.

Knowing the roadblocks she was up against, Natasha committed herself to 10 years, or until the VGH Foundation had the go ahead to take over the fundraising for additional beds.

Since eQ began, Natasha has had numerous meetings with the Foundation. Late last fall, Natasha met with Foundation Associate Director Stephanie Forgacs for an update and had barely sat down when Forgacs proudly gave her the news – Vancouver Coastal Health has finally given approval.

Although the VGH Epilepsy Clinic’s efforts for more beds began well before her surgery, eQ’s fundraising endeavour is said to be “the inspiration.”

The cost for the SIU project (equipment, installation etc.) is $865,000. The account opened with eQ’s funds, close to $19,000 (raised in just 18 weeks over four campaigns), and the goal is to reach $25,000.

After its 2018 campaign, eQ will pass the SIU torch to the Foundation.

VGH fundraising abilities are considerable and it is aiming to finish the project some time in 2019. In addition to eQ’s donation, $144,000 has already been raised for a total of $163,000 to date.

VGH is also working hard on recruiting more epileptologists and the Foundation has started other separate fundraising projects related to seizure research.

“Here in Canada, one in 100 people live with epilepsy. With the medical community learning more about seizures diagnosis is on the rise and the SIU wait list has grown to more than three years,” Natasha says.

March is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, so join eQ in its fifth and final SIU fundraising campaign.

Locations of events are coming soon in the Quesnel Observer and Coffee Break, and on the ‘Purple Day’ posters throughout the city.

International superstar Alex Cuba is again performing for eQ’s benefit concert on March 3 at The Occidental; there are limited tickets left.

“Thank you Quesnel for helping us put our great city on the map as B.C.’s first SIU endeavour! Because of the SIU and highly trained medical staff at VGH, I am now 1,690 days grand mal free,” says Natasha.

For the second year, Natasha was invited to attend the VGH Foundation Gala, which honours its donors.

“This is something I could never have believed possible before 2011, but I’m proud to have taken this fundraising project to such a successful conclusion and help others who live with uncontrollable seizures take the next steps to wellness.”

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