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PHIL HAWKINS - Kennedy senior Mireya Sanchez was recently diagnosed with benign occipital epilepsy, also known as Panayiotopoulos Syndrome, a non-life threatening seizure disorder that she has battled since she was two years old.The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Mireya Sanchez was expecting to go on a road trip to Hermiston.


The rest of her friends and classmates from Kennedy High School were making the five-hour drive to watch the football team make its fourth state title appearance in school history, and Sanchez wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“Football’s been my favorite sport since I was younger,” she said “When I was a kid, that was the first sport I fell in love with.”

She was up late at home Friday night, lying in bed and trying to get some semblance of sleep before the big day. Sanchez wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t think much of it and tried to sleep it off.

Next thing she knew, she had drifted off and awoken in a state of alarm, acutely aware that she had just fallen unconscious and had a seizure.

Physically exhausted from the experience, Sanchez gathered herself and went to her parents to let them know.

Then she had another one. She had one more waiting for the ambulance and another on the ride to the hospital.

By the time the Trojans had taken their first snap Saturday night, Sanchez had endured five seizures.

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Sanchez grew up in Mount Angel with her mother Angela Rodriguez, father George Sanchez and younger brother Marcos.

Sanchez began experiencing seizures when she was 2 and a half years old.

“She would have them on occasion, and they would always cluster,” Rodriguez said. “She would have one, and another. One point in the second grade she had 14 in an eight-hour period.”

During a seizure, Sanchez will lose consciousness. Her body becomes slightly stiff and rigid, and she can vomit during an episode. Then she wakes up 20 to 60 seconds later, exhausted from the experience.

“Having one seizure is the equivalent to running a marathon,” Rodriguez said.

As if the muscle fatigue of running a marathon wasn’t enough, the medication she takes to help prevent further seizures leaves her physically fatigued and lethargic.

The effect slowly fades over time as her body adjusts to it, but on that Saturday in November, she spent the day in a haze, only vaguely aware of what was going on around her.

“The whole day is pretty much a blur,” Sanchez said.

She was sent home later that day and was still determined to watch the game, so her dad live streamed it online for her to watch while she recuperated on the couch at home.

“I think I only watched maybe the first five minutes of it and then fell asleep,” she said

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PHIL HAWKINS - Sanchez has been a vocal leader for the Kennedy basketball team from the bench while gradually working herself into condition to play. She has recently started getting small minutes and will contribute more as the season progresses.Sanchez’s seizures have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, but prior to Thanksgiving, her family thought that was over with.

“I had forgotten about it,” Sanchez said. “It was a thing of the past. I was over it and moving on to the next chapter of my life.”

She used to have more seizures when she was younger, something that’s not unusual with children.

“It’s very common — kids mainly — most new cases of seizures and epilepsy is in kids and they outgrow it,” George Sanchez said.

Hers would come intermittently. Four to five months, then a cluster of seizures. Six to nine months, then another attack.

Each time, the length between seizures would grow. A year. Then two years. Then three. Prior to her most recent attack, Sanchez’s last seizure had come when she was in eighth grade.

While Sanchez had moved on, her parents were wary, worried for their daughter’s safety, as parents do. They wanted to feel secure, but in the back of their minds, they still had their doubts.

On Thanksgiving, the attack confirmed their fears.

“It was just so surprising to us,” Rodriguez said. “Being so long — six years without anything — and for her to have one and then five, it was just kind of earthshaking.”

Perhaps more surprising, though, is that this whole experience may be a blessing in disguise.

Sanchez finally has a diagnosis.

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PHIL HAWKINS - Sanchez has been a vocal leader for the Kennedy basketball team from the bench while gradually working herself into condition to play. She has recently started getting small minutes and will contribute more as the season progresses.Despite dealing with seizures for nearly her entire life, Sanchez had never been officially diagnosed.

Although doctors could treat her condition and provide her with medication to help prevent further seizures, no one was ever able to understand why she had seizures.

“The way her seizures presented, they were very rare,” Rodriguez said. “All the tests came back normal. Nobody could ever tell us what kind of seizures they were. They never had any information.”

Until now.

One of the doctors in Hillsboro was able to deduce that Sanchez likely has benign occipital epilepsy, also known as Panayiotopoulos Syndrome.

It’s an extremely rare, non-life threatening syndrome that is typically triggered by exhaustion and lack of sleep. It also is rare in patients older than 15 and will gradually fade away with time and treatment.

“It was crazy,” Sanchez said when she found out. “ I had gone so many years without knowing what was going on and then one doctor says, ‘Hey, I think I know what’s causing this and here’s what you need to do to manage it.’”

Armed with the knowledge of how to avoid future episodes, Sanchez is excited to get back to her routine, particularly on the basketball court where she has missed more than half the season.

She has still contributed to the team dynamic, helping from the bench, encouraging teammates and providing what wisdom she can as an upperclassman.

“She’s been able to see the game from a different point of view,” co-head coach Peter Hall said. “She’s an intelligent kid.”

Sanchez has been slowly building up her stamina as her body has gotten used to the medication and is making strides toward being a more active part of the team.

“I’ve been practicing now and trying to build up my stamina, and I’m just hoping to get back out on the court,” she said.

She’s played a handful of minutes in the past few weeks, and her coaches expect her to be a key contributor off the bench as the team makes a push for the league and state playoffs.

Sanchez refuses to let her condition control her life, and her will and determination serves as an example not just to her teammates, but to her parents as well.

“I think my daughter has shown to me some incredible strength and resiliency,” George Sanchez said. “She has changed my life.”

Phil Hawkins covers sports and the city of Gervais. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1194.

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