This Teen Won't Let Epileptic Seizures Stop Her Quest To Become A Competitive Runner

"I absolutely love the freedom."

Katie Cooke is a runner with an unusual challenge not faced by many in her sport.

The 19-year-old — hailing from Cherrywood, South Dublin — endures what some medical professionals have called an "arsenal of epilepsy," which means she has up to 15 convulsions daily that leave her unconscious.

This disorder has not slowed Cooke down one bit. In fact, the teen athlete has had convulsions during several races, but after it's over and she regains consciousness, she gets back up, keeps running, and makes it to the finish line.   

"Your whole body is shaking, you can feel your muscles jumping, it feels like everything has been sucked out of you, you can't breathe," Cooke told the BBC News. "Every single day you lose control."

At 10-years-old, Cooke was diagnosed with frontal lobe epilepsy, the second most common type of epilepsy, which is "caused by abnormal brain tissue, abnormal blood vessel, old stroke or trauma, rarely tumors, scars from prior infections and several other causes," according to Epilepsy.com. In fact, no cause is determined for about 50 percent of people diagnosed with frontal lobe epilepsy.

While many who suffer from frontal lobe seizures are fully aware of what is going on until the episode ends, often leaving them confused and lethargic, complex partial seizures, which may also begin in the frontal lobes, produce a different outcome. Often times with the latter, the seizure is shorter, lasting less than one minute, and isn't followed by tiredness and confusion, but they occur in a cluster or series.

Medication was able to keep Cooke's condition controlled until it no longer took effect during puberty.

"I wasn't able to get out of bed," Cooke recalled. "I wasn't able to do anything for myself and couldn't really speak. My mum was dressing me and showering me."

For 10 months she underwent treatment at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, Dublin, but despite efforts, she got worse and became confined to a wheelchair upon her release.

"(I) was in a wheelchair for about seven months but being a very stubborn person I wanted to prove to people what I could do," Cooke said.

Her passion to learn how to live with a neurological disorder — which threatened her freedom to walk — was inspiring, but it wasn't until she was able to walk about that she understood what it was truly like to be free.

"After a lot of physio I started jogging every day and I started to absolutely love the freedom," she added.

Not only has running given Cooke a newfound freedom, but it has actually helped alleviate the symptoms of her condition a great deal. Even if she misses one daily running session, Cooke sees the symptoms of tiredness and dizziness return. And although a raised heart rate triggers more seizures, Cooke feels it's worth the risk since the outcome of completing a race is priceless.

"There are particular challenges with having epilepsy and long-distance running, but if you're walking you have those challenges too and I think the general benefits outweigh these risks," said Dr. Doherty, Cooke's neurologist, to BBC News. "If you took the average long-distance runner and measured all their health parameters against somebody who doesn't run you would find, no matter what disease or disorder they carried with them, they're better off."

Cooke is certain that her life is better spent running and despite the odds she's accomplished great things as a runner, like running a 5K in under 17 minutes, and won the Dublin City Marathon in her age group after suffering three seizures.

And if she ever faces a seizure during a race she's got her trusty running mate by her side, her neurologist Dr. Doherty, who decided to start running with Cooke for one specific reason.

"I'm a specialist in epilepsy but my sole role when running with Katie is to stop people from taking her off in an ambulance," he said. "I just stand there and say, 'Katie's fine, I'm here doctor, she's going to recover.'"

See more of Cooke's story in the video below: