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Winner Named in JJ Hennessey Honorary Epilepsy Scholarship

Chris Watson, CEO of EverSpark Interactive, an Atlanta SEO Company, remembers vividly watching a colleague, Jason Hennessey, and the colleague’s family battle the effects of epilepsy when his young son, JJ, was diagnosed with the disorder. That experience serves as the inspiration for the $1,000 JJ Hennessey Honorary Epilepsy Scholarship open to any currently enrolled undergraduate student diagnosed with epilepsy in any form.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder typically symbolized by seizures. What many do not understand is that the disorder is not monolithic in nature and can present differently in different people. Most seizures can be treated with medication, however, in some of those affected; seizures are sudden while in others there are provocations or warning signs to alert the onset of an episode. The area of the brain impacted by the neurological episode determines what occurs during the event.

This year’s scholarship winner, Matthew Milligan, was diagnosed with Benign Rolandic Seizure Disorder, a syndrome that affects approximately 15 percent of epilepsies in children. Milligan remembers his first episode and recalls lying on his stomach in his parent’s bed, losing all ability to move or speak, but being fully conscious of everything that was happening around him. Most terrifying was his mother’s cries and pleas to the 911 operator to send an ambulance. He remembers coming out of the seizure and begging his parents not to take him to the hospital. Once Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived, Milligan was taken to the hospital and underwent a grueling series of tests to determine the appropriate diagnosis.

As with most cases of Benign Rolandic Disorder, the seizure stopped for Milligan by the age of 12. He had suffered extensive bone density issues, however due to Tageratol, the medication he was prescribed to control the seizures. Milligan describes broken bones being a constant occurrence in his life, to the point where he became hugely unaffected by a breakage. Thankfully, he has been free of the medication for approximately seven years and his bones have strengthened. You can watch his full video application here, where he shares his trials and tribulations.

Milligan explains that he was born with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy and continues to live with tremors and speech problems and was recently diagnosed with an immune-disorder that causes the right side of his body to lock up for several minutes at a time. Still, he works through it and is a junior attending Florida Gulf Coast University. Strong in his Christian faith and living by the motto “Don’t let anything hold you back”, Milligan is majoring in Forensic Science and minoring in Psychology. His goal is to become a forensic psychologist working with state or federal law enforcement.

When asked what his life will look like 10 years post undergraduate studies, Milligan doesn’t hesitate. He plans on being married, having children, and working as a criminal profiler. He says this scholarship puts him one step closer to achieving his dream.

EverSpark Interactive remains resolute in their devotion to raise awareness around epilepsy and other disorders. Watson says, “We believe strongly in creating a world where higher education is accessible to everyone and where conditions like epilepsy are not a barrier to success.” Matthew Milligan, this year’s awardee, continues to break down barriers, and push through to meet his goals, while serving as an inspiration to others struggling with seizure disorders.

To read more, check out our press release here: