A Rolla native who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager has established an epilepsy scholarship in honor of his late grandparents.

A Rolla native who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager has established an epilepsy scholarship in honor of his late grandparents.

Ryan Dillon, who was born in Rolla and is a 2002 Rolla High School graduate, along with his family have set up a national scholarship in the name of Dillon’s grandparents called the Tony and Jan Viessman Memorial Scholarship.

Dillon experienced his first seizure when he was 6 months old and still suffers from the occasional breakthrough seizure regardless of his prescribed medication. He was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 14.

His grandparents were residents of Rolla for more than 40 years and both recently passed away — his grandmother, Jan, in March 2010 and his grandfather, Tony, in February 2011.

Tony worked for the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop I in Rolla and Jan taught elementary school in several rural communities before becoming a real estate agent in Rolla.

“I was always close to my grandparents and they always encouraged me to set goals and achieve those,” Dillon told The Rolla Daily News by phone interview.

Dillon said he remembers the last phone call to his grandma was before an epilepsy fundraiser walk and the last check his grandfather wrote before he passed was to Dillon’s team for another walk.

“My grandparents were huge supporters of mine and always there to encourage me along the way,” he said. “I wanted to continue their legacy so I came up with the idea to have the scholarship in their name with the full support of my family.”

Dillon currently serves on the Epilepsy Foundation’s National Board. He was the recipient of the 2012 Epilepsy Foundation’s Sara Stubblefield Advocate of the Year Award and the DC United’s Community Star Service Award.

“As I got older, the seizures became more severe,” Dillon said, noting that he had a severe seizure in 2008 while living and working in Washington, D.C.

Dillon said after that, he had a choice — to keep his epilepsy in the dark or start talking about.

Dillon now spends time traveling around the country speaking to young kids and telling them to speak out and not to be ashamed.

“When you talk to friends, you educate them and erase that negative connotation,” Dillon said.

Dillon said he has been raising awareness of epilepsy with Congressional members and even noted a House resolution sponsored by Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson that requires agencies to coordinate together with funds already allocated to better raise awareness about epilepsy.

Dillon said Rolla Mayor Bill Jenks III has also been supportive and declared November Epilepsy Awareness Month in Rolla. Dillon hopes that the same declaration will be made for the entire state of Missouri.

About the scholarship

The Tony and Jan Viessman Memorial Scholarship is for those pursuing higher education and who live with epilepsy.

The scholarship was established in August 2011 and the first four recipients were each awarded a $1,000 scholarship upon graduation in May 2012. The recipients were Brittany Luedeke, Jessi Ogle, Sam Peck and Katelyn Cheramie, who live across the country.

Dillon said the money for the scholarship fund comes from money he raises for his epilepsy walk team.

Eligible scholarship recipients are individuals who are under a doctor’s care for epilepsy or the caretaker for someone living with epilepsy; a high school senior who has applied to a technical college, junior college or four-year college/university; a freshman, sophomore or junior in one of the above institutions; a college senior who as applied to graduate school; or an adult interested in pursuing a college degree.

Applicants must also write essays. Applications for 2012 scholarship submissions must be postmarked by March 30, 2012. Completed applications can be mailed to Julie Viessman MacCash, 10698 Lakemont Drive, Rolla, MO 65401.

The Tony and Jan Viessman Memorial Scholarship is affiliated with the Epilepsy Foundation of Missouri and Kansas.

Dillon is a graduate of Westminster College in Fulton and moved to Washington, D.C., in 2006 and has worked for Congressmen Ike Skelton and Russ Carnahan and at the state department under Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

What is epilepsy?

• Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain defined as having two or more seizures. The seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells in the brain signal abnormally, which may briefly alter a person’s consciousness, movements or actions.

• It is estimated that one in 10 Americans will have a seizure in their lifetime and one in 16 Americans will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime.

• Epilepsy affects people of all ages, race, and countries and can begin at any time of life.

• Epilepsy is not contagious.

• Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder in the United States.

• Almost 3 million people in America have epilepsy. Every year there are 200,000 new cases of epilepsy, with 25 percent of those cases reported in children.

Seizure first aid

• Remain calm and reassure other people who may be nearby.

• Time the seizure with your watch.

• Clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp.

• Loosen ties or anything around the neck that may make breathing difficult.

• Put something flat and soft, like a folded jacket, under the patient’s head.

• Turn the patient gently onto one side to keep the airway clear.

• Stay with the patient until the seizure ends naturally.

• Be reassuring as consciousness returns.

• Seek medical attention when the person having a seizure is diabetic, has brain infections, suffers from heat exhaustion, is pregnant, has been poisoned, running a high fever, has hypoglycemia or a head injury.