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Epilepsy Foundation Wants Special Training for Drivers of Public Buses

Charlottesville’s public transit service says it will add a video to its driver training program after a man with epilepsy complained that he was left by the side of a busy road while having a seizure. 

37-year-old Joshua Humphries was diagnosed with epilepsy after he crashed his car in Roanoke. “I broke my jaw, knocked out several teeth, broke my nose,” he recalls.

Now a resident of Charlottesville, he gets around by bus, but Humphries says that isn’t always safe, because bus drivers may not recognize a seizure.  Often, he points out, people don’t fall down and have convulsions.  Instead they may stare, shake or speak in strange ways.

“That one has gotten me into trouble a few times," he says. "I’ve dealt with police who thought I was drunk.”

That’s what happened this summer when he had a seizure on a public bus.  Charlottesville Area Transit says he was yelling and hammering on windows, which prompted a call to the cops.  Humphries doesn’t remember that, but he does recall finding himself along a busy road.

Humphries points out that, "Someone else who might have been kicked off might have walked into Emmett Street."

He phoned the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia which offered to train bus drivers in recognizing a seizure. The city refused but said it would show a video produced by the organization for police.

“Imagine an epileptic seizure with no convulsions where the person can look straight at you, talk and even walk," says the narrator.  "That’s where the similarities to normal end, and where police can get tripped up.”

The program stresses that someone who’s having a seizure won’t follow commands.

“With complex partial seizures they’re zoned out,” Humphries explains.

The head of Charlottesville Area Transit says drivers are skilled at driving but should not be expected to properly diagnose epilepsy.  He said passengers who are drunk or using drugs are removed from city buses every day, and drivers will probably continue to call police when they confuse intoxication with a medical condition that affects nearly 85,000 people in Virginia.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief