Veterans and civilians joined forces Sunday to raise awareness of epilepsy during a float trip down the Current River. The effort was a joint project of the Salem American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Organizers Eric and Katharina Surles led the expedition from Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry. It was just the latest event in the couple’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the disorder. Last year, they also completed a skydive for the same purpose. The feat earned Katharina a nom de guerre of “Sky Granny” in her ongoing campaigns against the disorder.
“People need to know just how many people suffer from this disorder, one in 26 Americans will have a seizure during their lifetime,” Katharina said before disembarking in a kayak. “You feel helpless when you see a family member suffering from epilepsy. It helps to take charge and do things like this to raise awareness and support those trying to find a cure.”
Eric Surles serves as the current Commander of Salem’s VFW Post.
“Lots of veterans have epilepsy and it’s something that is becoming more common for modern soldiers,” Eric said. “It’s more important now than ever to donate to research efforts and support of those suffering.”
The float included children and seniors, as well as veterans ranging from active duty personnel to conflicts as far back as Vietnam.
Chris Wegman of Salem’s American Volunteers service group was among those who took the voyage’s purpose. Wegman said a high school friend suffered from epilepsy growing up, and as a former member of the military, he’s concerned for veterans developing the disorder from traumatic brain injuries.
“What many people don’t realize is you can get a traumatic brain injury not just from concussion from [improvised explosive devices] but also just from heavy weaponry,” Wegman said. “If your head is anywhere near a muzzle of a large caliber machine gun when it goes off the air pressure alone can do a lot of damage. You see a lot of guys get bloody noses when they’re too close to one going off, and for many of them there’s a good chance they sustained a traumatic brain injury. Your chances of having a seizure or developing epilepsy greatly increase if you’ve ever had a TBI or concussion.”
Dan Dandurand of Jadwin shared that he’s been living with a TBI since leaving the service.
“It’s a scary thing,” Dandurand said. “At first you think it’s nothing then one day you fall down to the ground and you don’t know why. Then it turns out to be from something that happened years ago.”
Jadwin Canoe Rental supplied the watercraft and shuttle for the float trip. There were 12 sponsors for the event including VFW Post 6280, American Legion Post 99, SAL Squadron 99, Town and Country Bank, Riverways Federal Credit Union, Mooney Auto Supply, Larson Farm and Lawn, Global Eagle Contracting, Salem MFA and Richard LaBrash.