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Epileptic Struggles to Make Ends Meet

Maryland Newsline
Thursday, April 14, 2005

Melvin Keels has worked for 10 years doing part-time housekeeping at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, where he gets paid $8 an hour. He cleans up, mops the floor, “stuff like that,” from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, he said.

Keels, 38, said he is a lifelong epileptic who is forced to work part time because of his condition.

He is on medication that reduces his epileptic seizures to about three a  month.

“If I don’t take the medicine, I have a seizure every day,” he said.

His seizures leave him “very much in pain. My whole body is stiff. It’s very, very sore. I  have a very terrible headache. My tongue is chewed up. My memory is not good. I have a short-term memory loss.”

But he said he has never had private health insurance in his life.

He said he gets a disability check of  $776 a month from the government. He gets his two medications, Tegretol and Depakene, from Medbank, a nonprofit organization that supplies medications to the uninsured poor. The medications cost about $400 for a month’s supply, Keels said.

He was referred to Medbank by the Epilepsy Association, he said.

Before finding MedBank two years ago Keels said, it was an effort to buy medicine because he had no insurance to cover the costs. “I was borrowing money from different people, and things like that,” he said.

MedBank does not cover the cost of doctor's visits. About half of his doctors' expenses are covered by Medicaid, Keels said. The rest, "I have to pay out my own pocket." Similarly with hospital visits, "They pay half and I pay the other half." Medicaid does not cover his medication, he said.

Keels said he lives by himself in an apartment in Yale Heights in West Baltimore. He made it to the 10th grade but had to drop out of high school because of his illness.

He said he has tried to hold down full-time jobs.

“At one time, I did try," he said. But "every time I did work full time, I had more and more seizures.”

--By Mike Santa Rita


Copyright © 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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