PERSONAL JOURNEY: Living with and conquering Epilepsy

Kettering man gains confidence

When Matthew Rizer of Kettering was just two years old, he was diagnosed with severe epilepsy, which was already greatly affecting his life.

“I was born and raised in Cincinnati,” Rizer said. “We moved to Kettering when I was three and my seizures were uncontrolled at that time.”

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes brain seizures and is estimated to affect about 3.4 million people in the US, with one million of those cases uncontrolled. Because of this, it has the potential to disrupt a person’s ability to hold down a job or live independently.

“My parents took me to both Cincinnati Children’s (Hospital) and Dayton Children’s to see neurologists,” Rizer said. “I ended up with Dr. Lacy, who was my childhood doctor.”

Dr. Daniel Lacy started working with Rizer and his parents, Ed and Ann, to find the right medications that would help him. Rizer’s parents also found a school program at St. Albert the Great Elementary School that they thought would work with him.

“What I remember from my childhood is in school it (epilepsy) really affected my learning because it interrupted the school day,” Rizer said. “After I had a seizure, I would be really tired and would have to rest in the clinic and sometimes I had to go home.”

As he grew, his seizure frequency varied and there were times he had good control with the medications he took. Some medications, like Topamax, caused very bad side effects and affected Rizer’s cognitive functions.

“It felt like I had a giant head cold,” Rizer said. “And it was tough to understand what was going on in class.”

Rizer graduated from Fairmont High School in 2002 and by that time, his seizures were mostly controlled. By then he had discovered that he enjoyed anything that had to do with computers and information technology and had enrolled in a technology prep program at Fairmont.

“I got a jump start on college and learning about computers,” Rizer said. “I got college credits and a $4,000 scholarship because I completed the program successfully.”

As Rizer moved on to college, his side effects with Topamax got worse and his physician prescribed another medication. But that one also had side effects that he couldn’t tolerate.

“I had giant mood swings and it made me feel angry all the time,” Rizer said.

By then he had graduated to an adult neurologist who agreed to take him off that medication and put him back on one he had tried before that didn’t have severe side effects. He was able to find a good balance at last and control his seizures.

“I have always loved working on computers,” Rizer said. “Even when it’s difficult I just think it’s interesting. The technology never stays the same and is always developing and improving.”

In 2006, Rizer graduated from Sinclair Community college with an associate degree of applied science. He continued to take classes to help him stay up to date on computer technology and eventually earned a certificate in network security in 2019.

At the same time, he started his own small business helping people with their personal computers and digitizing film.

“I didn’t get a job right away after graduation because of the recession,” Rizer said. “But after I started my business, everyone in my neighborhood found out I was a techie, and they would ask for help.”

On December 3, 2007, Rizer’s neurologist told him that he was a good candidate for a specialized brain surgery that had a good chance of helping him become seizure free and reducing his dependence on medication.

“I had a resection of my right temporal lobe in my brain,” Rizer said. “This was major because I had a lesion that was causing the seizures that they could remove.”

Rizer recovered and ended up connecting with Goodwill Easter Seals of the Miami Valley. The organization hired him in 2019 to work in their warehouse on Woodman Drive in Dayton in computer recycling.

“People would donate their old computers and we would also get them from local companies,” Rizer said. “My job was to go through them and pull out anything that we could reuse. I like tearing things apart and putting them back together.”

Last year, Rizer moved up in his job and transferred downtown, working for the Goodwill Information Technology department. He works with new hires setting up their technology and on troubleshooting. And he says he loves his job!

Last November, during Epilepsy Awareness Month, Rizer, who is now 39 years old, volunteered as a guest blogger for Goodwill to help raise awareness of the condition and to help others. He also created several epilepsy public service announcement, which he posted on his personal YouTube channel.

“Epilepsy is one of those disabilities that can be invisible,” Rizer said. “Every year it makes me feel happy and hopeful knowing there are more treatment options now than there have ever been.”

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