epilepsyUSA: When was Matt diagnosed with epilepsy?
Mark Wallis: When he was 12 months old.
epilepsyUSA: As a grandfather, it sounds like you’re actively involved with your grandson and family.
Mark Wallis: Yes, and so is my wife, Vickie—the whole family is involved. When Matt has a seizure, we all run to the house like nuts. Of course, he hasn’t had a seizure in 5 years, so we’re very pleased with that.
epilepsyUSA: When Matt got his diagnosis how did you react?
Mark Wallis: I often look back and reflect on that. We immediately thought about how our daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Fernando, would feel about the longevity of this diagnosis. We thought about all the things they had planned for Matt and how they wouldn’t be able to do some of them, then we wondered what they would do when it was time for him to go to college. Then we realized we had ended up overlooking Matt. It took us a little while to turn back and say, ‘Wait a minute. The one that’s the real victim here is Matt.’
That’s when we left our parental side and came back to the patient side and thought, ‘Let’s get together and really focus on Matt’s quality of life.’ We put him into a special school and he doesn’t miss a beat. He’s the busiest guy I’ve ever seen. I call him the little CEO.
epilepsyUSA: Where does he go to school?
Mark Wallis: He’s in the Briarwood School, which is here in Houston. Quite a few kids in the school have epilepsy, as well as other issues. It’s just a brilliant school that does a wonderful job. They’re all great educators and we’re very pleased that there are no bullies and it’s a great environment.
epilepsyUSA: How long has Matt been seizure-free?
Mark Wallis: About 5 years. I should put in parentheses that there was a trial to take him off his meds during that period, and he lasted about 3 weeks drug-free, and then he had a seizure, so we put him back on the meds.
epilepsyUSA: When did you become involved with the Epilepsy Foundation?
Mark Wallis: Right after Matt was diagnosed, Jennifer, my daughter, found the Epilepsy Foundation Texas—Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth—which is run by Donna Stahlhut. She met with people there and it’s been a great experience ever since.
epilepsyUSA: I know you have a strong commitment to supporting epilepsy research. Why is that so important to you?
Mark Wallis: I believe that all individuals are in a position to give, so it’s something I feel everyone should do. These kinds of disorders are going to be cured by benevolent money, which will really be the way that we take care of epilepsy. There’s not one disorder that’s better than another. I didn’t pick epilepsy; it picked me, through Matt. I give because it’s a commitment to helping others, not just Matt.
epilepsyUSA: If you’re targeting your money toward research, what do you hope that will accomplish in the big picture?
Mark Wallis: I’d love to think we could rid the earth of epilepsy through epilepsyspecific drugs or a device. I favor a device. I’d much rather spend time on an electronic device because epilepsy is a disorder caused by neurons rapidly misfiring in the brain, which is an electrical malfunction often referred to an ‘electronic storm’ in the brain.
epilepsyUSA: What would you say to the grandparent of a newly-diagnosed grandchild with epilepsy?
Mark Wallis: Get the crying out the way and get involved!
epilepsyUSA: What is Matt like?
Mark Wallis: He’s a very sensitive young man who thinks of his sister, Emma, more than he thinks of himself. He’s all about other people. It’s a joy to watch him operate. He’s going to make a good catch for some girl, I’ll tell you that!
epilepsyUSA: What do you do as your day job—in your spare time!
Mark Wallis: I’ve got a medical distribution business that distributes products to wholesalers in the U.S. I’ve been doing it for about 30 years now. My business means Matt will always have a place to work and will never be fired because of epilepsy.
We hire veterans and, as a result of what I’ve picked up from being around Matt, I’ve learned to give people with challenges an opportunity not to be fired. The business helps me fulfill my benevolent side and it also gives our family a good feeling that Matt will always have a place to work.
epilepsyUSA: It’s not very common for families to be as close-knit as yours obviously is. What do you attribute that to?
Mark Wallis: Love. Understanding. Love. If you understand love and know what love is, you don’t ever want to be apart from the people you love. Basically, what’s at the foundation of all our relationships—successful relationships— is a complete understanding of the word love. For me, it’s hard to hate but easy to love.