Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Epilepsy Warrior

Andrea Lawassani provides the care she’d wish to receive

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School of Nursing

icon of a calendarNovember 17, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn

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When Andrea Lawassani, SON ‘19, had her first grand mal seizure at age 17, her neurologist warned her that she might experience depression as she grappled with being diagnosed with epilepsy. However, Lawassani says she “did the opposite” and has tried to turn her condition into a positive experience.

Now a 26-year-old nursing school grad who works with other epileptic patients in a neurology unit at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, Lawassani’s family calls her the “epilepsy warrior.” But her journey hasn’t been easy. Lawassani started at OU when she was 18, still newly diagnosed. A steady slew of neurological tests and side effects from new medications made it difficult for her to focus in school. She decided to seek help from OU’s Disability Support Services (DSS) office, where she says the staff was “absolutely amazing.”

“Just accepting that this was labeled as a disability was a little bit rough for me,” Lawassani says. “But at the same time I’m like, ‘You know what, Andrea? These situations can’t happen again.’”

Lawassani says she wanted to be “treated like an everyday student” as much as possible, so she made use of DSS services, such as private rooms for exams and time extensions for test-taking, only as needed. But she says it was good to know that DSS staff “always had [her] back.”

Starting as a nurse aide at St. Joe’s in 2017, Lawassani was hired as a nurse at the hospital as soon as she finished her nursing degree in 2019. She says she’s had a lot of “heartfelt conversations” with her patients, offering insights from her own experience with epilepsy and working to provide the same level of care she would want to receive.

Lawassani’s own journey with epilepsy remains challenging. Her doctors have struggled to treat her condition, and one major surgical procedure intended to mitigate her seizures instead exacerbated them. But, she says, “I count my blessings every single day.”

“I know as a nurse I’m making a huge impact on people’s lives, and that’s all I’ve really wanted to do since this started,” she says.

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