For nearly 40 years, severe epileptic seizure attacks produced spirit-crushing obstacles for Lawrenceville’s Starr Phipps. The epilepsy warrior refused to allow the barriers to stop her from moving forward.
The Hampton region sharecropper’s daughter never quit. She proceeded to become a first-generation college graduate. Phipps now leads a productive life. The epileptic seizures continued, but in 2003 her prayers were answered.
Phipps’ doctor introduced her to Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) Therapy. It changed her life. The non-medication treatment option quickly reduced her seizures from nearly 30 to four or five a month. In 14 months, Phipps was seizure-free for a year.
“It’s a device that’s implanted like a pacemaker, except it is for the brain,” Phipps said. “It’s not too invasive. When you have irregular brain activity, it sends a signal to the brain and may stop the seizure.”
Once Phipps began the VNS Therapy, her medications were cut from five to one. Though epilepsy is not the only health issue impacting the 60-year old. It was the affliction that made a healthy life impossible.
Phipps suffered from her first seizure at age 9. Many teachers and classmates believed she was mentally challenged. She spent time in special education classes, even though she tested in the highest percentile when compared to classmates. She caught two breaks.
A judge ruled Phipps could stay in regular classes. The second break came from a grade-school teacher. The educator’s son suffered from seizures, and she took Phipps to a physician to have her diagnosed. The physician determined Phipps had epilepsy.
Phipps became a cheerleader at Hampton High School and earned a college scholarship. She received her undergraduate in biology at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, then her masters in analytical chemistry education at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The seizures continued to block her path.
“I worked in a lab at a hospital,” she said. “One seizure is a liability. I was asked to work in the gift shop. That’s when I decided I would educate and do what I could do for those suffering from epilepsy.”
Through the years, Phipps has been diagnosed with lead and mercury poisoning, cardiac problems, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. None have created the obstacles the epileptic seizures placed in front of her.
Today, VNS Therapy allows Phipps to function normally. She has an awareness that she did not have when the seizures struck, and she has received approval from her doctor to drive a car.
Phipps provides free education to young adults, refugees, and immigrants as a literacy teacher. She is an active community volunteer and a mother.
Life has been difficult for Phipps, but her determination allowed her to overcome nearly impossible odds.