Nursery Owner Gives Back to Help Others with Epilepsy
Jim Mitchell is fortunate his brain surgery at Wake Forest
Baptist Medical Center eliminated the seizures he suffered with for more than
A year after his surgery, he showed up with a paper bag
filled with cash at the annual Chili Cookoff at the Piedmont Triad Farmers
Market in Greensboro. Mitchell told Pat Gibson, director of the Epilepsy
Information Service at Wake Forest Baptist, that the money represented how much
he would have spent on medications without surgery.
He donated that money to the Chili Cookoff, a fundraiser for
the Epilepsy Medication Fund, a program of the Epilepsy Foundation of North
In the 20 years since, Mitchell remains a major contributor
to the epilepsy medication fund. Unlike Mitchell, many people with epilepsy
either do not have health insurance or their insurance does not cover the cost
of the medications, which can be expensive.
Mitchell tears up when he talks about how his life changed
“I was just so fortunate to have had the surgery. It’s a
miracle, plain and simple,” he said.
Living with Epilepsy
Mitchell developed epilepsy when he was a child. At 18
months, he had encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain typically caused by a
virus. His physicians believe the disease left scars on his brain, causing his
The seizures continued through his youth, becoming more
frequent in his teens and college years. They were often so severe they caused
black outs. Sometimes, he had to go to the hospital, at other times he would collapse
on the ground. To this day, Mitchell’s face bears scars from his many falls.
He and his wife, Judy, met while attending N.C. State, where
both were horticulture majors. After college, Mitchell took a position with the
state Agriculture Department, but after five years, he lost both his driver’s
license and his job due to uncontrolled seizures.
Over the next 10 to 15 years, the Mitchells tried to pursue
their college dream of starting a small nursery, but with Jim suffering an
average of 30 seizures a month, it was difficult to operate a business.
Then, in 1995, Mitchell’s physician at Wake Forest Baptist
suggested a new type of brain surgery. His medical team pinpointed and removed the
scars on his brain.
Just like that, his seizures stopped. Just as quickly, the nursery
business took off.
Today, Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse has seven
full-time employees and 11 greenhouses. It supplies hundreds of thousands of poinsettias,
perennials, annuals and other potted plants to the public and commercial
landscapers every year.
Judy Mitchell praised Wake Forest Baptist and Pat
Gibson for their scientific contributions and patient support in the field of
Gibson credits epilepsy patients and their families for
Individual giving is important because even today, surgery
is not an option for everyone with epilepsy. Most people are dependent on
medication to control their seizures, Gibson said.
“And these medications are extremely expensive, sometimes
costing up to $2,000 or more per medicine a month,” said Gibson, who created
the Epilepsy Medication Fund in 1987.
“I get medicine requests daily,” Gibson said. “We cover the
whole state and have bought medication for almost every county. We’re one of
the few states in the country that does this.”
To learn more about
the Epilepsy Information Service, call 800-642-0500.