In English class, a student begins to stare into space and is unresponsive. The student’s body then becomes limp and slides out of the chair and onto the floor. Then her small body starts shaking and convulsing, but no one in the room is trained to assists students who have epilepsy.
For the past three years Gabi Crunelle, teacher at DHS, has been working with students, parents, teachers, administrators and legislators across the state to bring an awareness about epilepsy and a new bill called Sam’s Law that would require teachers to receive training in how to assist students with epilepsy. Last June Crunelle and many others celebrated the success of their efforts when Sam’s Law was passed.
“My mom walked these same halls at DHS and would have seizures with no one around to help her. She was bullied by her classmates. Teachers didn’t understand the effects it was having on her school work.” Crunelle said. “And here we are 30 years later and nothing had changed, until now.”
Ms. Crunelle has been teaching high school math at Dumas High School for five years. This past year she took part in helping pass a law on epilepsy.
Sam’s Law was created because everyone runs the danger of having seizures. Seizures are not only caused by epilepsy. People with diabetes, concussions or head trauma, drug/alcohol abuse, tumors, pregnancy complications, high fevers, and dehydration are at risk of having a seizure.
“Samantha Watkins, Sam for short, was a 12th grade honor student and soccer player, but only months after experiencing her first seizure she passed away from what we call SUDEP (sudden unexpected death in epilepsy).” Crunelle said. “Sam’s death and the death of many others inspired us to work towards this law and named it “Sam’s Law” in honor of Samantha.”
Sam’s Law is a new law that was passed June 2019 to help Texas teachers get training that will help them assist Texas students with epilepsy. Epilepsy is sometimes called a seizure disorder. It is a chronic unpredictable neurological condition characterized by intermittent electrical and chemical disturbances in the brain that cause seizures which affect awareness, movement, or sensation.
“Since I teach, I know all the training that we have to do and we’ve never been trained for that. I’ve always heard of more teachers having kids have seizures in class and them not knowing what to do and then they freak out and the kids freak out and I wanted to change that,” Crunelle said.
Her biggest part in all of this was to present information to people across Texas and testify in front of the Texas Senators and House Representatives and their staff at the state capitol.
“[The law passing] is crazy complicated, I had no idea going in, I mean I took the history classes and everything, but I had no clue about everything that was involved. I learned a ton and like you really can’t learn that stuff without experiencing it, but definitely a lot more happens than you realize,” Crunelle said.
She spent a lot of her own money and personal time traveling and planning ways to play her role to help the law get passed.
“Luckily, we had great support from our family, friends, the community, the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas, Samantha’s mother and DHS staff and administration.”
This has been time consuming for her and everyone else involved, including her mom.
“We have been working on it for 3 years. We had started off just going, and we would travel. We went to El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. We went and talked to people at epilepsy walks, like they do for cancer. We would go and set up a booth and we would get people to come talk to us, to gain support,” Crunelle said.
She told them that for every year that she has taught she has had 1 or more students in her classroom with active seizures.
“I deeply care for every single one of my students as if they were my own. I want them to walk out of my classroom not only knowing more about the content, but also with all the tools to be successful in their futures.” Crunelle said. “I would be devastated if I was the cause or one of my other coworkers did something wrong in the event of a seizure that kept them from reaching their potential.”
All of the effort and dedication eventually paid off when Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law.
“You know, you usually just vote your senators and representatives and you hope that they’re going to make the right decision, but people don’t realize all the hearings that they do and all the meetings they have and all the people that are also there working. It was cool, definitely a once in a lifetime thing,” Crunelle said.