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Greenbrier senior turns illness into senior project, career path

Posted: March 9, 2014 - 1:05am
Greenbrier High senior Emma Branch (right), her mother, Lori Branch (center) and Kimberly Jaeger, a registered nurse at the Children's Hospital of Georgia, unpack entertainment equipment Emma donated to the Epilepsy unit at the hospital.   Photo By Valerie Rowell
Photo By Valerie Rowell
Greenbrier High senior Emma Branch (right), her mother, Lori Branch (center) and Kimberly Jaeger, a registered nurse at the Children's Hospital of Georgia, unpack entertainment equipment Emma donated to the Epilepsy unit at the hospital.

Emma Branch saw her senior project as more than a chance to make a good grade.

The Greenbrier High School senior used her experience shadowing a registered nurse and neurologists on the epilepsy unit at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia to learn about her own condition and to solidify her career choice.

“Since I wanted to do neurology as a career, I thought I’d get a head start on it and come in here and shadow and see if I was right for the environment,” said Branch, 17.

Branch was diagnosed with epilepsy nearly three years ago.

She chose to spend 15 hours shadowing registered nurse Kimberly Jaeger in the unit. Jaeger said Branch was articulate, intelligent, inquisitive and “an excellent student.”

“She’s not your typical (teenager),” Jaeger said. “She has her eye on where she wants to go and she knows what she wants to do.

“She’s a smart girl. So I think she was leaning toward the medical field anyway. This probably just kind of gave her that extra push.”

During her tour on the epilepsy unit, Branch saw patients having seizures in person and on video, saw the EEG monitors track patients’ brain activity, administered medications and went on rounds with neurologists in the ward.

Branch has been treated in the unit she shadowed.

She said she’d never seen a seizure before, though she’s had her own, so she was nervous about watching a patient’s seizure on video. She said she was surprised that she went into a more clinical mode when watching the video.

“I think that was the coolest part was seeing how it happens and then how they respond, see how different seizures look from mine,” Branch said. “Seeing the nurses’ and doctors’ perspective was cool.”

Branch, whose epilepsy is managed with medication, plans to be a pediatric neurologist like her doctor, Yong Park.

“I’m so proud,” Park said. “She’s able to be a functioning girl because she’s seizure-free for more than six months on medication. Everything she can do normally.”

As a pediatric neurologist, Branch said she hopes to relate closely to her patients and inspire them to explore whatever interests them.

“I think it shows that I have this condition, but I didn’t let it win and I turned it around for something good to help other people out and to talk to people with the same issues I have,’ Branch said.

“Being a neurologist, I kind of want to show that, like prove it wrong. It happened to me, but I didn’t let it overcome or beat me and I turned it into something good. So I can show people it doesn’t stop you from doing anything.”

Since it’ll be years before Branch is a practicing neurologist, she used her experiences to come up with a way to help patients.

By networking with her friends, neighbors and church, Branch collected monetary donations and donations of games, movies and other items to keep patients entertained during their hospital stay. On Wednesday, Branch dropped off two Wii game consoles, two Wii Fit boards, a Guitar Hero guitar, numerous gaming accessories, about 70 games, about 30 movies, board games, cards and other items to entertain patients. She collected donated items as well as $120 in cash and $160 in gift cards.

Jaeger said the donation is much needed in the unit.

“Part of (a patient’s) stay is they have to be sleep-deprived and that’s to induce a seizure,” Jaeger said. “So when they’re sleep-deprived, they need something to do. It helps make their experience fun too, because we can offer them all these extra little activities.”

Branch said she’s found her calling in her illness. She will attend James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., in the fall.

Her clinical experience on the epilepsy unit will have to tide her over until she gets more hands-on clinical learning in college.

“It was cool.”

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