TORRINGTON – On the stage, a polished dancer gracefully completes a perfect pirouette. The audience cheers, when suddenly, a flash bulb goes off – the girl slips into a daze and falls to the floor.
While this specific scenario has never played out in real life for Jazmine Rodriguez, it’s a very real possibility.Rodriguez practices tap, hip-hop, ballet, pointé, lyrical and jazz dance at 28th Avenue Dance Studio – and she also has epilepsy.
“Her initial signs were feeling funny, out-of-body feelings,” Rodriguez’s mother Brenda McCranie said. “We didn’t know anything about what this meant.”
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder producing brief disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain that temporarily affects a person’s consciousness, bodily movements and/or sensations. One in 26 people will develop epilepsy, and 1 in 10 will have a seizure in their lifetime, according to The Epilepsy Foundation.
“We found out (she has epilepsy) the night of Dec. 8, 2015, when the doctor called us with the results of Jazmine’s EEG,” McCranie said.
EEG stands for electroencephalogram – a test that can detect abnormalities in brain waves. Initially, Rodriguez was seen by Dr. Marion Smith in Torrington, who referred her to a neurologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. There, after about a three-week wait, Rodriguez underwent a sleep-deprived EEG, which showed seizure activity during a sleep and strobe-light test. A week later, the McCranies had the official results in hand.
Ten days after Rodriguez’s diagnosis, on Dec. 18, then-Torrington Middle School Assistant Principal Cedric Cooper called McCranie and said her daughter was having a seizure at school.
“When I got to the school, and to her, she was just starting to come out of the seizure,” McCranie said. “Her seizure lasted three to four minutes. She had a floor burn on her forehead and bit her tongue.”
McCranie believes this particular incident was the result of the doctor taking Rodriguez off her seizure medication completely in the process of switching to a different prescription.
“It’s so important for (people with epilepsy) not to come off their medication cold turkey,” she said.
As another testament to this hard-learned lesson, Rodriguez experienced a seizure in September 2016 that was particularly memorable – and not in a positive way.
“Jazmine got up to get ready for a volleyball tournament in Sidney (Neb.),” she said. “She forgot to take her medication that morning, and after a long, fun, tiring day, she got home about 9:50 p.m.,” McCranie said. “At 9:55 p.m., she was walking through the kitchen, and all I heard was a ‘thump’, like she hit the counter. She did, with her head, and when I went in there she was in a full-blown seizure – one of the worst ones I have seen yet. It lasted more than seven minutes. We were getting ready to administer rescue medication when the ambulance got here. This one was a combination of missed medication and not being on the right dose – when people grow or gain weight, medication doses have to be checked.”
Although McCranie now has a wealth of information about epilepsy, it wasn’t always that way.
“We knew nothing about epilepsy before Jazmine was diagnosed,” she said. “Jazmine’s diagnosis has changed our lives so much. We have learned a lot about epilepsy … every seizure has been different; making sure she has all her medications refilled so she doesn’t run out; doctors’ visits and testing and learning to ask more questions when you don’t understand; knowing when she is tired she needs sleep. When she’s sick, she’s more at risk; making sure her surroundings are safe and there aren’t any triggers and trying to prevent them. The worry and fear of another seizure is always in the back of your mind. With epilepsy comes depression and anxiety and learning how to deal with all of it, plus all the changes with her learning at school and all the meetings and keeping everyone in the loop that interacts with her.
“For us, it has been trying to find the right medications that work,” McCranie said. “Jazmine went through some testing for surgery. After we found out her seizures are sitting on her memory and thinking (area of the brain), we opted out for now.”
Through the efforts of local families, including the McCranies, the City of Torrington has issued a proclamation recognizing November as Epilepsy Awareness Month. In addition, Trail Elementary is encouraging students and staff to wear purple this Friday, Nov. 9, in honor of all children fighting epilepsy every day.
“Awareness is important to us, because we want people to learn about seizures so they know how to be able to help if they see Jazmine – or anyone – having a seizure,” McCranie said. “Epilepsy cannot be cured, so we need to educate. It’s not visible, so it’s harder for people to see.”
Rodriguez, 15, is in her sophomore year at Torrington High School. In addition to dance, she is involved in FFA, Future Business Leaders of America, and Student Council. She also buses tables on the weekends. As of October, through the knowledge and research of her parents and medical professionals, Rodriguez has not had a seizure in nine months.
“Every day Jazmine is seizure-free is a good day,” McCranie said. “We treasure every moment with her and have learned to be more patient.”
For more information about epilepsy, visit The Epilepsy Foundation website at