Friends step in to help young man with epilepsy

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James Burke is getting by with a little help from his friends. (KTRK)

About 150,000 new epilepsy cases are diagnosed each year, which means at some point in their lives, one in 26 people will have the disorder.

For some, seizures can be controlled with medication. But for others, like James Burke, his seizures were so dangerous he had to leave college -- until five friends volunteered to look out for him. Now, he's back at school.

James walks with a friend to every class. His friends are the reason the 21-year-old geology student was able to go back to college.

"I would have these random little seizures where my arm would start twitching, my whole body would start twitching. They were scary. They put me in tears," he said.

The seizures got so bad, he had to miss spring semester. He had them everywhere: in the hospital, the Rose Bowl bleachers and on a golf course -- and during that seizure, James disappeared. His father found him several minutes later.

"He was in the lake face down. My cousin and I got him out and gave him CPR," his father, Jimmy Burke, said. "I thought he'd drowned. Sure did."

"I was obviously very scared, me and my dad. We both kinda just broke down," James said.

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When we first met James Burke, he was suffering from debilitating epileptic seizures. But now, he says he's free.

Medicines don't stop seizures and complications from a surgical procedure made them worse. But skipping spring semester didn't help either.

So he sent his friends an email: "Guys as y'all know I have epilepsy and it can be dangerous at times. I've fallen on my head twice, knocked my front teeth out, cut my head open on some stairs that required staples."

Now, he's back in Austin, because five of his friends volunteered to look out for him. They drive for him, walk him to class and someone is always with him.

"If he happens to have a seizure we know the procedure, just sit him down. When he comes out, you just talk to him until he's OK," his friend Michael McNamara said.

"I'm so glad he's back, we all are, and it means the world to us having him back living with us," said Lamar DeLong, another one of James' friends.

"These are my best friends. I know they have my back," James said.

The new arrangement has given his parents peace.

"The fact he was able to come back here and go to school really as a result of his friends agreeing to keep him safe," Jimmy said.

"He still has a seizure about once a week but he's happy," his mother, Liz Burke, said.

James began each class this semester by explaining his epilepsy. And he's relieved to be back.

"I feel like a student again, I feel like I'm in college again, like I deserve to be here," he said.

"The epilepsy is no big deal, it doesn't change anything, who he is," James' friend Robert Frazier said.

And with his friends behind him, James is making plans again.

"I'd like to be a geologist, and try and be successful. But other than that try and get rid of this, get rid of the epilepsy. I think that's everyone's goal when they come down with it," James said.

For more information on living with epilepsy, and how you can help others who are living with seizures, visit the Epilepsy Foundation's website.

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