"This is our third day, we are kind of getting used to it, trying to see all the representatives and senators," said Claudia Crunelle of Dumas, who has been in Austin lobbying for passage of "Sam's Law," which, among other things, would mandate that all Texas school personnel, from bus drivers to teachers and others, receive annual training on seizure recognition and first aid. "It is going really well. We actually got a cosponsor, Mays Middleton, R. - Wallisville. Now we are working on a senate sponsor." She says District 31 Senator Kel Seliger has told her he likes the bill.
Named after Kilgore High School senior Samantha Watkins, who died in 2016 after suffering a seizure, the potential law became a cause among people in Kilgore and East Texas who were saddened by the loss of someone so young and shocked that someone could actually die of a seizure. (According to Crunelle, who has been a volunteer with the Epilepsy Foundation for 14 years, sudden death from epilepsy happens in 1 in every 1000 cases.) State Rep Travis Clardy from District 11 filed the bill in January at the beginning of the new legislature.
"We haven't seen any resistance. Everybody we have met has been very supportive. In fact, they think that it has already been done," said Crunelle. She and Shari Dudo, founder of the Purple Warriors of Texas, a non-profit epilepsy and seizure advocacy group supported by the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas, have "knocked on 181 doors" to push for the legislation. "There are 49,050 children who have active seizures in Texas schools. They all need this. The actual number is higher, because you do not have to have epilepsy to have seizures. Pregnancy, dehydration, head trauma, and other things can cause seizures. We are doing this to make sure that all of the children are safe. We want to make sure that all school personnel will be able to assist them, if they have a seizure. It can potentially save a life," she said.
As luck would have it, events in the capital building helped Crunelle and Dudo make their case with legislators and staffers. "It happened today in the capital that there was a pregnant lady that did have a seizure in the cafeteria," Crunelle said. "She had never had a seizure before. It was surreal. They were calling us on the phone. Because we were here, one of the staff members heard what we told them about what they were not supposed to do and what they were supposed to do. That staff member helped this woman who was pregnant … so potentially he saved her life and the baby. He thanked us and said, 'We are 100 percent behind this bill.' "
Crunelle has epilepsy herself, and she remembers what it was like to be in school and have seizures. "That is why I am so passionate about it. My teachers didn't know how to help me when I went to elementary, jr. high and high school. All these years later, they still don't know. And this has to change," she said.
Sam's Law (House Bill 684) has three parts. The first requires all personnel to watch a less-than-30-minute video every year provided free of charge by the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas that teaches viewers how to recognize seizures and perform first aid on someone having one. The second part requires all school nurses to watch a two-hour video on seizures that goes into the subject in depth. The third part has parents and a neurologist fill out a "seizure action plan" that would detail aspects of the child's condition to be kept on file at the school to assist the nurse and others in caring for him or her.
Crunelle is optimistic about the chances of the bill becoming law. The legislature meets until May. She says the next project for the Purple Warriors of Texas will be a change in the state's school curriculum to teach all Texas students about epilepsy, seizures, and how to respond.