I can remember my brother’s first epileptic seizure like I can recall the passcode to my iPhone. It was in July of 2006, and I was only 5 years old at the time. My brother, Keysi, and I were playing tag in the office of our one-story townhome in a south Minneapolis neighborhood filled with other Somali families. What happened next changed our lives forever and made me aware of why health care is so crucial and important around the globe.
On this summer afternoon, our 11-year-old brother, Koshin, had just gotten out of a cool, refreshing shower after playing basketball with friends in the neighborhood park. I saw him walk briefly to our shared bedroom, but he never walked back out. All of a sudden, we hear a loud thud — a thud so loud neighbors could hear. This thud defined our future. Keysi and I immediately stopped playing tag, glanced at each other and ran to him. I saw him lying on the bedroom floor, still naked from his shower. I saw my brother’s melanin, frail, skinny body shaking uncontrollably. His eyes rolled back in his head. Tears dropped from his ebony-enriched eyes. Foam flowed out of his mouth. As if this foam was being translated to words, he begged for me, his 5-year-old sister, to save him.
Keysi, who was 8 years old, just stood there confused. He thought Koshin was pranking us. “Warya ayarka iska dhaaf,” he said. “Bro, stop playing.” But I knew my brother wouldn’t pull a prank so absurd. I yelled out a scream for help, so deafening that within a millisecond my parents rushed in, our neighbors dropped what they were doing and ran over and the ambulance was called.
That day, doctors saved Koshin. He was diagnosed with epilepsy, a brain disorder causing unpredictable seizures. From that day on, I just remember my brother going in and out of the hospital, swallowing large white pills three times a day and more episodes of seizures, some more serious than others. All of them were scary to witness, however, as they always came randomly. You can’t do anything to prevent or relieve the seizure. All you can do is watch and pray for the best.
Growing up as the only girl in my Somali household, I had to take care of and look after my oldest brother most of the time. I gave him his medication, helped him in and out the shower (as he often felt weak and wearied after seizures) and called paramedics when he had an episode. My parents were busy working. My mom held two jobs to make sure we had somewhat of a stable income, so I was basically Koshin’s personal caregiver.
As I grew older and matured mentally, I kept thinking back on what would have happened to Koshin and our situation if my family had never left Somalia. Would my brother have even survived his first seizure, let alone make it to 21 years old? How would my parents have afforded or found the right medical care? These types of questions never left my train of thought and are what makes me determined to change the field of health care globally.
I am lucky to be in America. As a first-generation Muslim Somali-American woman, I believe America is an astonishing country with many opportunities to receive an education, to get jobs and to improve our health and well-being. It’s been true for my parents who escaped the Somali Civil War in 1991. My dad, who started as a taxi driver, now is a construction consultant. My mother worked hard to become a community health worker.
Koshin is not letting his disability define him. He graduated from high school and is now enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). I haven’t heard him experience a seizure in a long time. Meanwhile, Keysi is living life! He bought a new car and just graduated from South High School. He also plans to go to MCTC in the Fall.
College, for me, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because I know not everyone is fortunate enough to attend. I will study health care and become either a neurosurgeon or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). My brother’s experience with epilepsy has opened my eyes to the positive impact of health care. It keeps people flourish, saves lives and, most importantly, provides them future. I believe health care goes beyond your income or status. Health care is a way of life. It’s about having an opportunity to make a difference in this world, and I plan to make a difference around the globe.
Ultimately, I want to make all my Somali people proud. One day, I will go back to Somalia and share what I learned about the advances and advantages of health care, along with the experiences and education I received while being in America. I will do this so everyone can have a chance to live a good life like my brother Koshin.