Golf pro Kenzie O’Connell isn’t letting epilepsy get in the way of her love of the game.
O’Connell, who’s been golfing since she was 5 years old, never had any symptoms of a health problem. When she was 21 and working at an oral surgeon’s office, she passed out. Soon she was passing out three times a week, then five times a week, and then as many as seven times a day.
But in all those instances, she wasn’t actually passing out. After medical tests, doctors diagnosed O’Connell with epilepsy — a condition she shares with 3.4 million Americans. She has vestibular seizures, which are associated with dizziness and vertigo.
“I didn’t know anything about epilepsy or seizures or anything like that, except for what I saw in the movies, like people falling down, shaking, that kind of thing, which is not really realistic,” she said, noting the condition is misunderstood and that everyone has a different experience with it.
At the time of her diagnosis, O’Connell was living in Georgia. She temporarily moved home to be with family in Nebraska.
She felt like she lost her independence. She hasn’t driven in three years for fear she’ll have a seizure behind the wheel. After she has a seizure, she cries, feels disoriented, and gets cold and tired.
“People who do have epilepsy know it is a very hard thing,” she said. “Your independence is definitely one of the things that I feel like we struggle with all the time. I think it’s one of those things that we have to kind of sit back and go, ‘OK, this is something we’re going to have to deal with for the rest of our life.’”
Now O’Connell and her husband live in Colorado. That’s where she started as an assistant golf pro. It was an adjustment at first because, at the time, her epilepsy was unpredictable and hard to manage.
“You can be out on the golf course doing great and then all of a sudden, you have to have somebody drive you in because you can’t operate the golf cart or walk, or hit a golf ball,” she said.
It took three years to adjust her medication and she’s happy she doesn’t have many side effects. Currently, her epilepsy is controlled and she doesn’t have seizures often.
O’Connell, who recently signed with Callaway Golf, competed on Golf Channel’s show “Shotmakers” and co-hosted “Topgolf Tour.” She also works as an ambassador for the Epilepsy Foundation of America and the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado.
She’s a social media influencer, too, with over 152,000 followers on Instagram. She’s sharing her story to help other people with epilepsy know they’re not alone.
“On my social media platforms, I’ve been sharing a little bit and I’ve gotten such great feedback from not only people with epilepsy, but people who struggle with other conditions as well,” O’Connell said.
She says talking about her epilepsy is therapeutic.
“If you talk about it, you get it off your chest, you’re going to feel so much better,” she said. “And I think that’s really helped a lot of people, which is awesome.”
O’Connell’s routine includes taking her medication at night, getting quality sleep, and avoiding triggers like waiting too long to eat, or being around bright lights and mirrors.
She keeps a positive attitude, too.
“Positive thinking goes a really long way, and I think that’s what really got me through some of the hardest times was just being positive and telling myself that it’s going to be okay and things are going to get better,” she said.