He’s about living his life and managing his epilepsy with a positive attitude and a determination that has fueled his journey from ICUs to jobs and driving and family time and more.
The Uniontown, Pennsylvania 23-year-old has a good job at a local retail store and is in the process of earning a college degree. About 12 years ago, he was formally diagnosed with epilepsy. Medication allowed for good control for about five years, and then things took a turn for the worse.
“I missed most of my senior year because I spent most of my time in the hospital,” Ricky said. “I was having cluster seizures and at the time there was not a good answer. So, I’d spend a week in the hospital and go home just to end up having a large cluster of seizures, which meant getting life-flighted and intubated again. It was a lot of emotional and physical strain on my body.”
Teenage years are tough enough without having to also battle a debilitating disease.
“Growing up with epilepsy was very difficult. There was an obvious lack of knowledge and the stigma of ‘he has epilepsy, let’s ignore him.’ I don’t want anyone else to ever have to go through that.”
To channel that need to help others, Ricky and his family work closely with the Epilepsy Association of Western & Central Pennsylvania (EAWCP), especially since Ricky received his seizure-alert dog, Charlie, in 2017, through EAWCP’s Oscar Project. With fresh memories of his tough high school years in mind, and with Charlie in tow, Ricky is now a popular speaker in the EAWCP’s Project School Alert program, educating students and teachers about epilepsy, seizures, and service dogs.
Seizure Alert Dog Provided Through EAWCP’s Oscar Project
“I want others with epilepsy to be treated 100-percent the same, and to look at epilepsy as something you can get through,” he said. “The key is learn all you can, and focus on the positive at all times. Don’t focus on the down sides. Focus on thinking: ‘there’s a way that someday I can get my license; someday I will be independent.’”
“Ricky is one of the brightest success stories of our organization,” said Peggy Beem-Jelley, President and CEO of EAWCP. “He consistently leverages our services and works closely with us to fuel his exceptional can-do attitude. He is an outstanding role model for anyone living with epilepsy.”
Positive role models are a big part of Ricky’s life. He describes his supportive parents as his rock, but he attributes his positive approach to managing his epilepsy to his grandfather, Anthony Francis D’Auria. Growing up, Ricky watched intently as his granddad fought a battle with heart disease by relying on positivity and determination.
“He instilled a lot of core values in me: Respect, always remain positive, always look for the bright side of things, never give up and push to the very end. I think about him every day. He is the biggest reason why I am able to be so positive. I figure, he did it, so why can’t I?”
Ricky’s younger brother, Josiah was diagnosed with epilepsy a few years ago. And while the younger D’Auria is doing well, Ricky says he worries about him, and hopes to help him in his journey by instilling the same core values into Josiah just as Ricky’s grandfather did for him.
Approaching his epilepsy with positivity has been a winning strategy for Ricky, his medical team, and the staff of EAWCP.
“The recipe for a good combination is faith and trust mixed in with a positive attitude,” said Alexandra Urban (Popescu), MD, FAAN, FAES, from the Department of Neurology, Epilepsy Division, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Living with epilepsy can be difficult for patients and their families. Disappointment occurs at times when the next treatment might not result in expected outcomes. A great attitude can propel someone living with epilepsy into a better life.”
From getting a seizure-alert dog to ongoing educational support and service resources, Ricky’s walk with EAWCP is an excellent example of the comprehensive attention the EAWCP is able to provide to those of any age, race, or gender who are living with epilepsy.
“We encourage patients to keep looking for treatment that results in no seizures and no side effects,” said Beem-Jelly, “That means staying up-to-date and attending patient education events online or in person to learn about new surgical options, new medicines and new options for seizure control. Ricky and his family have always been diligent to learn as much as possible.”
So, fueled by his grandfather’s influence, great medical care, and complete wrap-around services from the EAWCP, Ricky is a confident, successful young man who dedicates himself to helping his little brother in his epilepsy journey as well as anyone else he finds in need. No surprise that Ricky’s chosen profession is nursing. He plans to attend Penn State University to earn a degree as a registered nurse.
“I will always put others before myself. I want others to be better and succeed and do very well. I have no problem making sacrifices to make sure others are good,” he said.
“And one of the first things anyone should do is contact the Epilepsy Association of Western and Central PA to get plugged into their programs and services. It made all the difference in the world in getting me back to living a normal life.”