Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 14-year-old Alita Smith, an eighth-grader at Gerald Otte Blair Middle School has been struggling. She suffers from pseudoseizures which can last from five minutes to a half hour or more, struggles with the stress of grades and not being able to see her friends when much of the world was locked down. Smith loves dancing, but it is hard due to her condition.
"It's been a rough year," said Smith's mom, Holly Latwaitis.
Smith's struggles recently led to a diagnosis of Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES).
Dr. Sookyong Koh, chief of Pediatric Neurology at Children's Hospital and Medical Center, wrote a review paper about PNES published in Clinical and Experimental Pediatrics.
"We don't know exactly what causes it. A great majority have experienced trauma in their lives and the overwhelming emotional distress is expressed by a bodily event that looks like a seizure but there's no electrocardiograph discharges in EEG," Koh said. "It's caused by an overwhelmed state of mind. It's as if the body is speaking on behalf of what the mind and body cannot."
Latwaitis said she had never heard of PNES before.
"We took her to emergency room last Thursday, they gave her Ativan and sent her home, went to Children's Hospital on Friday and was sent home with medicine," she said. "On Saturday, at home on the deck she went into a full-blown seizure."
She's back home from the hospital and trying to go to school, but Latwaitis said her daughter is scared another seizure would happen at school.
Smith is doing traditional therapy and they are adding behavioral therapy to help with the ticks. She will have neurology appointments and her mom is hoping they can help her naturally without too many drugs.
Latwaitis said they are just getting into the start of this journey but have learned that PNES is a neurological disorder but it has a psychological cause.
"It can happen to anybody," she said. "There's high stress for kids having instant gratification with their phones, pressures of school and trying to be perfect."
She described it as the straw that breaks the camel's back.
Friends are hosting a fundraiser to help Smith and her mother from 5 to 8 p.m. April 24 at Christ Lutheran Church, 750 Angels Share Dr., Blair. The meal includes spaghetti with meat sauce, roll, dessert and a drink.