There was always one thing that set Gloria Mengual apart from others. She was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy when she was 5. It caused seizures — sometimes multiple seizures on the same day. Epilepsy colored much of her childhood.
When she was 12 years old, Mengual had a seizure at school. Within the minute or so that it lasted, her teacher had managed to clear the other 20 students from the classroom.
"I was sitting there in my desk and I looked over to the doorway of the classroom and I could see the teacher peeking in with this scared look on her face," Mengual recalls. "And I saw a couple of my classmates' heads kind of under her face and over her face."
Mengual's math book and a pencil were on the floor, "and all these desks were empty. That image stayed in my head for years."
Her family also reacted strongly to the episodes.
"I'd be coming out of a seizure and I'd hear my father saying, 'Why does this have to happen to her? What did we do wrong?'"
"My mother would often be praying over me or putting holy water on my forehead. She was determined to find me the best in terms of medicine. And there was always this hope on her part that her little girl was going to find a cure."
Mengual saw "tons of doctors and they tried many medications." When she was in her 20s, doctors suggested to Mengual that she would be a candidate for brain surgery.
But in 1983, it was a "fairly new" procedure.
"My mother, after all those years of trying to get me cured, the thought of them opening up her daughter's head scared the hell out of her. And I don't think she could bear the thought of losing me."
The morning of the surgery, "she begged me not to do it. And I looked at her, I kissed her forehead, and I said, 'Mommy, get out of the room.'"
After the seven-hour procedure, Mengual spent an additional three weeks in the hospital.
"Man, I've never prayed so much in my life," she says.
Because of that surgery, Gloria no longer has seizures. She says her life is "completely different."
"I've gone from somebody who's shy and withdrawn and scared of when I'd have the next seizure ... and now the whole world is open to me."
Produced for Morning Edition by StoryCorps Senior Producer Michael Garofalo.