Jessica Yochum, 23, suffered a seizure at her job at a Houlihan’s restaurant in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Her two colleagues immediately knew she was having a seizure and called 911. When the emergency responders arrived at the scene, they concluded Jessica was not having a seizure and forcibly restrained her despite objections from her colleagues, who each had a family connection to epilepsy and knew that holding her down was not the correct response.
In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Jessica was flailing during her seizure and inadvertently bit one of the responders. She was charged with aggravated assault. When she arrived at the hospital, she was handcuffed to the hospital bed and treatment for a seizure was ruled out as the police instead insisted she was on drugs. When she tearfully asked the police officers to loosen her handcuffs, she said they refused and said, “You’re a drug addict.” She continued to lie in a hospital bed confused, unsure of what day it was and wondering why she was shackled against her will.
The doctors conducted tests that revealed Jessica did have epilepsy and was not on illegal drugs. Her parents arrived and the doctor asked the police officers to leave the room. The family tried to get the police to drop the charges of assault and they refused. The family hired a lawyer, who successfully got the charges dismissed.
Jessica was diagnosed with epilepsy last year and her seizure in February was only the third she’s ever had. She is a graduate of Penn State University and plans to pursue her masters for a degree in speech pathology. She said she never intended to be a spokesperson for educating first responders on seizures, but, she said, “It’s something that’s more important than what happened to me. Every day people who are living with this disorder have fears and worries. The people who were there to protect me and help me did a lot of things that did not do that—they actually made it worse.”
On July 15, Jessica filed a federal law suit for “false arrest, excessive, unnecessary force and the filing of false criminal charges.” The court document states that instead of being treated for an epileptic seizure, Jessica was subjected to treatment that violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Jessica notes it is ironic that two of her colleagues knew how to respond to a seizure, but the professionals did not. She wants first responders to get the right training so they will know how to respond appropriately to a seizure. “I want people to know that the emergency responders are getting properly trained so that the next time something like this happens, they’re going to be helped. We don’t have to have a fear of the unknown.”
The Epilepsy Foundation recognizes the need to give first responders the information they need to recognize and respond appropriately to calls related to epileptic seizures. Our First Responders Program, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is designed to educate first responders to ensure they are aware of seizure types, what causes seizures and how to improve the decision-making process in responding to seizures and people with epilepsy.
For more information visit our First Responders page.