The Iraqi heat made me epileptic: Kenyan who worked in Basra narrates

Iraqi heat took a toll on him
  • Fred Kiserem was living and working in Basra, Iraq, as a baker
  • He got his first seizures in 2011 but did not take the seizures seriously and ignored them for three months
  • When he came back to Kenya for vacation in 2012, a  neurologist confirmed that he had epilepsy

Fred Kiserem, 33, was living and working in Basra when he suffered his first epileptic fit. He is back home now and endeavours to live a life as close to normal as possible. By Josaya Wasonga

I was not born epileptic. I got my first seizures in 2011 while in Basra, an oil port in southern Iraq. I was working in Basra as a baker.

 Initially, I did not take the seizures seriously. I ignored them for three months, thinking they would just go away.

My roommate, a Ugandan, told me, "This thing must be epilepsy". We do not have a history of epilepsy in our family, so I thought he was stretching it too far.


When I came back to Kenya for vacation in 2012, I went to see a neurologist, who did a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

That is when the neurologist confirmed my worst fear: I had epilepsy. The doctor said my seizures were triggered by the heat in Basra coupled with the stress from working in a war zone.

This was the biggest shock of my life. Nothing prepared me for that diagnosis. I was in the prime of my life. I was working and earning good money in Iraq. I was also my family's sole breadwinner.

The neurologist told me not to worry, and gave me drugs to manage the condition. He advised that I should not work in the bakery section because of the heat.

He also advised me to be alert, and that whenever I sensed the seizures coming; I should take a seat until the cloud passed.

I bought medication that would last six months and returned to Basra. I told my boss about my medical condition, and he understood and assigned me duties in the cold section.

The drugs help stave off the seizures. I can sense when seizures are coming ... I feel like I am starting to be unconscious and dizzy. It can warn me even 10 minutes in advance, so I have to be very careful not to ignore the warning signs.

I worked in Iraq for four years, and then I returned home because of the ISIS pandemic.
I am now self-employed, but I stay with my mother because it is risky to live alone. I cannot even drive.

There was a time I had a seizure at night while travelling from Dubai and I had not taken drugs, so my mother told me it was best to stay with her, just in case.

 When I first told my mother about my condition, she took it hard, but she has now accepted.
Another time, I felt seizures coming but I assumed.

 They came with such force that I fell and I broke my right arm. The doctors put a plate in my broken arm. That's when I started a foundation to help others living with epilepsy. I go to churches and schools to create awareness about epilepsy.

I am not married, but, God-willing, I will tie the knot by next March. While dating, I have always told my dates about my condition.

When I told my current girlfriend that I am living with epilepsy, she was shocked ... she did not talk to me for like a day.

 Then, after she got over her shock she told me that, as long as I was taking my medication, she was good to go.

But there was another lady who ditched me after I told her that I have epilepsy. I do not blame her, though. There are many misconceptions about epilepsy.

There is also stigma surrounding epilepsy. People say that it is witchcraft or demon-possession.

I have accepted my condition, and I am on medication to manage it and live as normal a life as possible.

What is epilepsy?

According to the Kenya Association for the Welfare of People with Epilepsy (KAWE), epilepsy is a brain condition which causes repeated seizures.

It is usually easily treatable when detected early and more than 80 per cent of patients can become seizure-free.

The major causes of epilepsy are head injuries, prolonged lack of oxygen – for instance, during difficult childbirth - diseases that may cause brain damage like meningitis, infections during pregnancy that could damage a baby's developing brain, drug and substance abuse and poisons like lead and mercury.

Epilepsy is not contagious. You cannot get epilepsy by touching the saliva or other bodily fluids of epilepsy patients.

Anyone can develop epilepsy at any age. Some people develop seizures in childhood whereas others have their very first seizure in middle age.

Dos and don'ts

When someone has a seizure, stay calm and remove any objects that could harm them. If they are wearing eyeglasses, remove them.

Cushion their head to avoid any harm that may happen during the seizure.

Do not try to hold them down.

Contrary to what many people do, do not put any object in the mouth of someone who is having a seizure.

Stay with the person and offer help when the seizure stops.

(Source: Kenya Association for the Welfare of People with Epilepsy)