Cochrane High student values ‘something more to life’

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 23, 2009

“You know there’s something more to life / When mountains make you cry.” So writes 17-year-old Kelsey Cartwright about her hope-filled mountains west of Longview, including Moose Mountain, pictured here. Photo by Kelsey Cartwright

What a way to celebrate your 17th birthday: electrodes decorating your scalp like candles on a cake. That’s how Cochrane High Grade 12 student Kelsey Cartwright, featured in last week’s column, is spending a two-week “extended birthday” right now in a Calgary hospital.

But more about that in a minute; first these reader responses:

As you will recall, my last column was sort of a dialogue between Kelsey and The Economics of Happiness, a book by Edmonton author Mark Anielski.

“What a wonderful article,” Mark himself was quick to reply. “I am going to share this with my Inspiring Education committee members under Minister Dave Hancock. . . . It profiles what I’ve been crowing about: the inspiration from our children in wonderful places like Cochrane!”

Then there’s this note from Ontario coffee companion Steve Boyd:

“Seeing kids like that growing up, and noting that they will run the country one day, I’m not so fearful of growing old!”

Now back to Kelsey and her extended birthday. Why all the wires connected to this bright, fun-loving gal?

When she was 11, doctors concluded her brain had a short circuit that caused mild, unpredictable seizures. Simply put, like more than 300,000 others in Canada, and in company with such notables as Leonardo Da Vinci, Agatha Christie and Neil Young, she has epilepsy.

The Epilepsy Canada brochure “Teens and Epilepsy: What You Need to Know” ( explains this condition as follows:

“In epilepsy, the brain’s electrical circuitry doesn’t work properly. Normally, the brain sends electrical signals throughout the body to control movement. In epilepsy, the brain sometimes creates an electrical storm – called a seizure – that scrambles these signals.”

For several years Kelsey was able to keep her epilepsy under control with gradually-reduced medication. About a year ago, however, her seizures increased dramatically: 100 in just three days.

These were very short “partial complex seizures that appear to originate from the front right temporal lobe, often while I’m asleep,” she says. Unlike more severe forms, these resulted mainly in a blank stare, confusion and temporary amnesia.

Her current two-week hospital stay is to determine whether brain surgery can correct this condition.

“I will be having one very long test,” she says: “an extended EEG attached to my head the entire time without medication.” This will confirm what part of her brain seizures are coming from during that time.

Through all this, Kelsey remains her positive self. “I refuse to be defined by my epilepsy,” she says.

And to prove that, she speaks enthusiastically about heading to a mid-October 4-H competition in Montana, as well as getting back on her favourite horse, Tara, and once again roaming through her beloved Alberta foothills.

Speaking of which, she shared with me a poem she recently wrote about the hope- and memory-filled mountains southwest of Longview where as a ranch kid she spent her younger years.

“It happens every time I’m in the area,” she wrote. “You know there’s something more to life / When mountains make you cry.”

Yes, Kelsey, there is “something more to life.” Happy Birthday! Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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