EA: How did the tragedy of your sister's death influence your life?
JO: It certainly changed the nature of our family. All of a sudden I became the oldest child and it changed the dynamic of our family too. We experienced a rather profound sense of grief. We had to see our parents grieving and everything changed from that day on.
EA: When did you first get involved with epilepsy advocacy and support groups?
JO: It was actually through the San Diego chapter of the Epilepsy Foundation. I just happened to be doing a celebrity event with them with several other celebrities and I just slowly and more deliberately got involved with it.
EA: What other kind of work do you do with the Epilepsy Foundation?
JO: I also do a matching grant with them every year so they can hold their summer camp for kids. I was involved a national epilepsy awareness campaign for about a year and a half. We held events in a couple dozen cities across the country.
EA: What do you feel your involvement has accomplished?
JO: I think the epilepsy awareness tour helped get people to listen and understand that people with epilepsy are just people with epilepsy. There's nothing abnormal about them. The other point that we hoped to convey is that it is up to the person with epilepsy to be his or her own advocate and take responsibility for controlling their seizures. You can't rely on the fact that your doctor always knows best. You should be shopping around for the best information at all times. Many of the patients and specialists aren't as up-to-date as they should be and that's why, as I say, you need to be your own advocate.
EA: What have you learned about epilepsy since your sister's death?
JO: There are a lot of old myths about epilepsy and about what to do when someone is having a seizure. A lot of people aren't really aware of what to do. They view the seizure as one of the most frightening things they can see happening, and it isespecially a grand mal seizure. And yet, at the same time, it is basically just like a computer shutting down. It will boot up again if you just keep the person from injuring themselves.
EA: What gives you hope regarding new treatments for epilepsy?
JO: There are so many good drugs now on the market that have a more minimal side-effect profile. For years, including back when my sister was having seizures, there were limited treatment options. There was little support available for someone who had epilepsy back then and so little known about the condition. The drug companies have put a lot of work into research and development.
EA: What types of events do you have planned for 2008 to help those with epilepsy?
JO: I'll continue to fund the camp in San Diego. I'm not actually living in LA right now because I have a show that I'm doing in Las Vegas (Spamalot), and at the same time, I'm still with Family Feudand I have a six-month-old son. So, I'm kind of maxed out right now.
EA: Are you enjoying Spamalot?
JO: It is the funniest role that I've ever played in my life, and I acknowledge that I've also been on Seinfeld. It is the funniest show I've ever done.
EA: Any chance we'll see you involved with more Dancing with the Stars?
JO: Probably not. I think the whole premise of that show is that you have to go from zero to 60, and I stopped at thirty. But I do enjoy watching the show, and I think it's extraordinary television.
EA: You are an owner of the real J. Peterman Company, is that right?
JO: Yes, I own the company with the real J. Peterman. If you go to jpeterman.com you'll see the catalog that we parodied on Seinfeld.
EA: And you've found time to be an author as well?
JO: I have a book out that was on the New York Times Best Seller list called It's Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump: And Other Life Lessons I Learned from Dogs. I'm following that up with a book that is actually little letters that have been written from my dog to my young son. They're lessons on manhood. The book is entitled Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It. It's my dog leaving his legacy.
EA: What is the one piece of advice you'd like to share people with epilepsy and their caregivers?
JO: For the people with epilepsy: take responsibility for yourself. You are not your circumstances. You are a person with epilepsy and epilepsy is not you. Don't let it debilitate you in any way. I applaud the caregivers. Also I think normalcy is what needs to be preached. Epilepsy is not an uncommon condition. It affects a lot of people, and they should be treated like anyone else.
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