UHN epilepsy program staff
(L to R): UHN epilepsy program staff, Lourdes Esguerra, Darcia Paul, Chari Anor, Asima Lau and Alina Mednikov, say Purple Day helps patients and families feel a closer connection to their caregivers, to each other and to the community at large. (Photo: UHN)

It's a relatively new tradition at UHN, sure, but it's also one that signals brighter days on the horizon – in more ways than one.

Each spring, as the snow melts and the temperatures rise, dozens of staff add their voices to an increasingly vocal chorus of people from around the globe dedicated to promoting understanding, reducing stigma and showing support for those living with epilepsy.

Those efforts are united under a single banner each March 26 for Purple Day. This splashy event – in which supporters are urged to wear the colour purple – has helped inspire patients, families, researchers, healthcare staff and countless others, who are in some way connected to the neurological condition.

Thanks to events like Purple Day, which marks its 10th anniversary in 2018, more and more people are learning about the brain disorder affecting one in every 100 Canadians.

UHN News recently sat down with five nurses in the Epilepsy Program at Toronto Western Hospital (TW) who have witnessed the evolution of Purple Day from its early days to reflect on its overwhelming success over the past decade.

They are quick to attest to Purple Day's ability to foster understanding while helping patients and families feel a closer connection to their caregivers, to each other and to the community at large.

Here, in their own words, they reflect on the secrets to Purple Day's success:

Chari Anor  

Chari Anor

Clinical Coordinator with the epilepsy/neurology outpatient program. Chari has more than 25 years of professional nursing experience.

Q. What is Purple Day?

Purple Day is a grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide. On March 26 each year, people are asked to wear purple and spread the word about epilepsy. Purple Day was founded in 2008, by nine-year-old Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia. Motivated by her own struggles with epilepsy, Cassidy started Purple Day in an effort to get people talking about the disorder and inform those with seizures that they are not alone.

Q. Why is Purple Day important?

Raising awareness of conditions like epilepsy is incredibly important and events contribute to how we treat patients and think about the issue. At UHN, we are all striving to make real improvements to get people with long-term conditions like epilepsy the care and support they need.

Asima Lau  

Asima Lau

Nurse Practitioner with the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU). Asima has a post-master Nurse Practitioner Diploma, Masters of Nursing in Neuroscience and Anthropology from the University of Toronto.

Q. How long have we been celebrating Purple Day at UHN and how did we get involved?

We have been celebrating Purple Day at UHN since 2009. We got involved by inviting all staff, volunteers, patients and families to wear purple. We also partnered with staff and volunteers from Epilepsy Toronto to set up booths at all three hospital sites to share information, educate others, highlight our research studies, hand out purple ribbons, as well as host bake sales, raffles and silent auctions.

Q. Can you tell us why the colour purple is associated with epilepsy?

The colour purple is associated with epilepsy because lavender is internationally recognized as the flower of epilepsy.

Lourdes Esguerra  

Lourdes Esguerra

Registered Nurse in the neurology-neurosurgery unit at TWH. Lourdes has a unique combination of strong nursing skills and leadership.

Q. Can you talk about the impact something like Purple Day can have on the lives of patients?

Purple Day promotes awareness about epilepsy. It is a campaign to get people talking about epilepsy and to dispel myths about the disease. Patients tells us that having support and knowing that someone cares improves their quality of life.

Q. Do you think the public is becoming more aware of epilepsy? If so, how?

Continued educational efforts can play a key role in helping people learn to live with and understand epilepsy and its effects over a lifespan. It is easier nowadays to access and learn about epilepsy through community services and public education.

Darcia Paul 

Darcia Paul

Epilepsy Nurse Practitioner. Darcia has a special interest in women with epilepsy and is one of the organizers of UHN's epilepsy surgical support meeting.

Q. What kinds of events do you have planned for Purple Day this year?

This year there is a huge focus on epilepsy-related research. There will be multiple booths in the atrium, highlighting the great work underway at TW. Furthermore, we will have additional booths from local community supporters, like Epilepsy Toronto, as well as some of our vendors. Collectively, these interactive activities will allow others to learn about epilepsy and support our mission, which is to diminish stigma and increase awareness.

Q. Can you tell us about the types of professionals in the epilepsy program who contribute to our circle of care?

The epilepsy program is comprised of a diverse subset of professionals that aid patients through their trajectory of care. The team encompasses nurses, nurse practitioners, epileptologoists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, neuropsychologists, social workers, neurophysiology technologists and community partners.

Alina Mednikov  

Alina Mednikov

Nurse Practitioner in Neurosurgery. Alina's subspecialty is functional neurosurgery, including neuromodulation and adult surgical epilepsy as well as complex spine surgery.

Q. How can staff at UHN show support for epilepsy patients on Purple Day?

We need to continue our efforts to increase awareness and educate the public about this disorder because people with epilepsy have one of the lowest quality of life among those suffering from chronic diseases. UHN staff are encouraged to wear purple. Past and current patients are encouraged to attend. This year, epilepsy related research will featured in the atrium with representatives from various UHN research labs who will talk about their research.

Q. What will you be wearing on Purple Day this year?

I will be wearing a purple shirt and a purple ribbon on Purple Day. Why Purple? In certain cultures the lavender flower is associated with solitude, which is representative of the feelings of isolation that are experienced by many of those affected by epilepsy and seizure disorders.

The Epilepsy All-Stars

purple brain

Show your support for epilepsy patients by wearing purple to work on Monday, March 26. Several Purple Day events are planned in the atrium at TW, including a raffle, bake sale, live music and several information booths where you can learn more about UHN's clinical research efforts in this area.

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