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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 40 years.

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 Carolina.

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 after surgery.

“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 seizures.

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.

Mitchell family

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.

Importance of Medication Fund   

Judy Mitchell praised Wake Forest Baptist and Pat Gibson for their scientific contributions and patient support in the field of epilepsy.

Gibson credits epilepsy patients and their families for giving back.

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.

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Last Updated: 04-25-2017
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