DELMAR, N.Y. (NEWS10)- He has gone three years without a seizure. Diagnosed at the age of two, Stephen Piorkowski is one of approximately 180,000 New Yorkers estimated to be living with epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Delmar man is raising money for one of four college scholarships administered by the Northeast Epilepsy Foundation. The scholarship, named after himself, provides money to people with epilepsy or caregivers of people with the condition for college.
Epilepsy affects 3.4 million, 87% of whom are adults, in the U.S., the CDC said. There are different types of epilepsy and seizures but if not treated or if the seizures can’t be controlled, the condition can be deadly. Epileptic seizures can cause a person to become detached, unresponsive, or unaware of what’s happening around them.
Many diagnosed with epilepsy, like Piorkowski, can be treated with medication but there are one million Americans with uncontrollable epilepsy. Seizures themselves can be brought on by many things including common illnesses like the flu, and medications. The underlying causes of epileptic seizures can be but aren’t limited to genetics, abnormal brain structure, stroke, trauma, and infectious diseases, according to Cure Epilepsy.
“Epilepsy will affect one in 26 people in our lifetime,” said Northeast Epilepsy Foundation Executive Director, Jeannine Garab. “These numbers are astounding, and underscore the need for more attention, education and awareness around this condition.”
Piorkowski has been living with epilepsy for 67 years and said he’s spent many of those trying to get his seizures under control. “I have been seizure-free for three years thanks to my neurologist prescribing medicine that keeps my seizures under control,” he said.
The 69-year-old started attending Schenectady County Community College (SCCC) in 2013, enrolling in their culinary program and choosing baking as his primary focus. Piorkowski himself was awarded a scholarship through Epilepsy Advocate and was inspired to start his own scholarship.
Seven years later, he said he raises enough money for three scholarships a year by making and selling cupcakes with purple frosting. Purple because it’s the color associated with epilepsy awareness. Piorkowski used to be able to raise money through a major event at SCCC, getting donations of yummy treats from other bakeries to sell as well, but that’s currently on hold.
“Our major fundraising event, Purple Cupcakes for Epilepsy, has seen a plethora of local bakeries and bakers donating cupcakes to be sold to the public at SUNY Schenectady around the time of International Purple Day for Epilepsy Awareness in March,” Piorkowski said. “Last year, the event raised over $1,500 for the Scholarship. Needless to say, we don’t know when we’ll be able to hold the event again so we now do our fundraising through The Baker Boy twice a year in the hopes of making up some of the loss through our proceeds.”
“Students who use their learned talents to empower the lives of others truly exemplify SUNY Schenectady’s foundational vision to inspire success. Having suffered the debilitating effects of epilepsy himself, Stephen Piorowski is a testament to the spirit of persistence that thrives in the very best of our students. SUNY Schenectady is honored to partner with the Stephen Piorowski Epilepsy Scholarship fund to provide other learners with the same great opportunity that Stephen found: the opportunity to be more and to do more for our greater Capital Region community,” SUNY Schenectady said.
“These scholarships are so important to the epilepsy community,” said Garab. “Epilepsy is an expensive disorder between testing and medications, and college is also very expensive. Any financial assistance that we can pass along to students with epilepsy is always greatly appreciated.”