Faces of Bethel: Emily Ratliff

March 6, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Culture | Cherie Suonvieri

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Regarding her battle with epilepsy, Senior Emily Ratliff said, "God has given [me] all of this for a reason. I grow from it, regardless of what is happening.” | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Emily Ratliff

The Bethel community is small enough that many of the faces that students and faculty see in the halls are familiar, but the stories those
faces have to tell oft en fly under the radar. Senior Emily Ratliff tells a story of inspiration.

When Ratliff was a junior in high school, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. According to the Center for Disease Control, epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures and affects about 2 million people in the U.S.

At the time of Ratliff ’s diagnosis, though, the seizures were “a lot smaller,” as she described them, noting that she never passed out; rather, she “spaced out.” Ratliff started taking medicati on and was then able to continue participating in sports throughout high school.

The fall after high school graduation, Ratliff found herself leaving Beecher, Ill. to major in youth ministry at Bethel. During her freshman and sophomore years, however, the seizures began to creep up.

“I wasn’t as great at taking my medication, so if I had a seizure, that’s what I blamed it on,” she explained.

The summer following her sophomore year, Ratliff returned home to work at a food lab. While there, she had another seizure.

“They were a lot bigger at that ti me,” she said. “I would hit the ground, but I could never feel them coming.”

Going into her junior year at Bethel, Ratliff was on a new medication, but the side effects made school difficult enough that she had to drop out fall semester.

That November, Ratliff went to the Mayo Clinic, where she learned her heart was stopping during the seizures. Aft er receiving a pacemaker and a new round of medication, she was able to return to Bethel for spring semester.

Ratliff continued to have small seizures throughout the spring and summer. The doctors determined that it was ti me to try something different, and they began to discuss the possibility of brain surgery.

They decided that surgery could wait until the end of fall semester, so Ratliff continued on with her schooling, despite having three seizures a week.

“I warned all my professors, and I did pass out in three of my classes,” she said. “When I woke up, though, I was fine.”

On Dec. 20, after finals week was over, Ratliff checked into the University of Chicago hospital. She had two separate surgeries, the first on Jan. 7 to put 96 EEG leads in and the second on Jan. 21 to remove the left hippocampus of her brain.

After the second surgery, she spent the night in the ICU and was moved to the epilepsy wing the next day. Ratliff was able to go home on Jan. 24, with a bandage over the biggest incision, stretching from her forehead to the side.

Since then, Ratliff has been in recovery mode, resting up and working to regain the weight she had lost before surgery. The doctors warned her that she could experience pain aft er the procedure.

“But so far, I’ve felt awesome... I have a lot less hair now, “ Ratliff laughed, “ but you can’t see my scars with the new haircut I have.”

She said there’s no guarantee that surgery will cure the epilepsy, and Ratliff likely will have to be on small doses of medication for the rest
of her life. However, this is something she has come to accept.

Planning on returning to Bethel this fall, Ratliff hopes to graduate in May 2015, and as she treks out into the field of youth ministry, she’ll be taking a unique testimony with her.

“Sharing my story [has already] helped a lot of people,” she said. “It’s not this negative thing. It’s a great thing that I can use to help others.”

According to Ratliff ’s mother, Patti Shepard, her positive attitude has been present throughout the entire journey. “She gave her testimony at church before she had the surgery. She said, ‘I am thankful for brain surgery.’ And I thought, ‘I’m dreading brain surgery.’ She’s been thankful all along.”

Ratliff credits her optimism to God. “He’s the only thing that has got me through,” she said. “It encourages me that I can encourage someone else with my story.”

Ratliff explained that during her junior year at Bethel, one theme that was very present was surrendering to God and his will. “I gave up the planning. I said, ‘Whatever You want.’” Ratliff has since had the word “surrender” tattooed on her forearm.

With surrender on her heart, Ratliff continues to look at things in a positive light.

“Yes, I had brain surgery, and I was in the hospital,” she said. “But to me, it was not a negative experience. God has given [me] all of this
for a reason. I grow from it, regardless of what is happening.”

“She’s had a really good attitude throughout the whole thing. They say with things like this you can either cry or laugh,” Shepard said,
noting that while at the hospital, Ratliff decorated the bandage around her head with flowers and bows. “And she chose to laugh. "

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