John Paul Popovich
18 October 1996 – 18 December 2015
Our son, John Paul, was a 19-year-old first year student at the University of Virginia. He was academically very bright, an accomplished athlete in swimming (winning the 2015 Virginia state title in the 200 individual medley), possessed an inquisitive mind, had an infectious smile and personality, was modest in his accomplishments, cherished his many friends, and had parents and younger siblings who loved him unconditionally.
This past December, John Paul had just come home from college after exams and was enjoying time with family and friends. Three days after coming home for the holidays, our son passed away in his sleep. It wasn’t until a week after his funeral that I heard for the first time the term “SUDEP” (sudden unexpected death in epilepsy) from a relative and began researching more about it online. And through that research, I learned about the many other SUDEP tragedies that have struck innocent families and changed their lives forever, just as it has changed our lives. It seems one common denominator in each of these stories is that the family had never heard of SUDEP and/or their doctor had never mentioned it.
Our son had a seizure when he was five years old, and, from that time on, there were the yearly EEGs and check-ups with the pediatric neurologist. His next seizure occurred when he was 17 years old, at which time he was put on low dosage medication. His last seizure was at age 18, and dosage was increased.
Several months before John Paul started college, I personally met with his neurologist. I was told not to worry; John’s seizures were under control. As with most parents who have children with epilepsy, looming in the back of my mind was the ever present fear he’d have another seizure while away from home.
Though our son’s doctor is a compassionate and caring physician, at no time did he ever discuss or make reference to SUDEP or any of the risk factors believed to trigger SUDEP. Had we known, perhaps – just perhaps – we may have been even more vigilant to ensure he took his medication regularly. It is likely we would have learned about the SUDEP Institute before he passed away and had awareness of those risk factors that are believed to facilitate the onset of SUDEP.
However, we will never know what could have been. That beautiful, little, blonde-haired boy with blue eyes grew into a wonderful and loving young man. John Paul had has his whole life ahead of him, full of promise, to explore and learn about the world around him and make a positive difference in the lives of others.
For those reading this, if your child, loved one, or someone you know has had seizures, I urge you to be proactive and learn what you can about SUDEP. Make the inquiry with your doctor, take the time to learn about this silent killer that so few doctors will initiate discussion about. In doing so, you may save a life. Our son would have wanted that.
John & Karen Popovich