StoryCorps: Even Seizures Can't Slow This Sixth Grader: 'Nothing Can Stop Me!' Last year, seizures forced Benny out of school. This year, he's back in class, with bigger things on his mind: "I finally realized, there's a galaxy of experiences."
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Even Seizures Can't Slow This Sixth-Grader: 'Nothing Can Stop Me!'

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Even Seizures Can't Slow This Sixth-Grader: 'Nothing Can Stop Me!'

Even Seizures Can't Slow This Sixth-Grader: 'Nothing Can Stop Me!'

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That music reminds us that it is Friday today, and it is time for StoryCorps. Today, we hear from 11-year-old Benny Smith. Last spring, he started having epileptic seizures, and it became unsafe for him to go to school. He spent much of this school year being tutored at home, but last month, he returned to the classroom. To mark that occasion, his mom Christine Ristaino brought him to StoryCorps.

CHRISTINE RISTAINO: When did you notice your seizures?

BENNY: When I fell out of my chair in my fifth-grade English class and I couldn't move.

RISTAINO: And what does it feel like when you wake up?

BENNY: A bit like a hangover

RISTAINO: (Laughter) How do you know to hangover feels like?

BENNY: You told it to me.

RISTAINO: Maybe I did. I don't know. So another question that I have for you - you've been passionate about science since you were probably 4. How has having a seizure disorder affected how you study science?

BENNY: It hasn't - not at all.

RISTAINO: OK (laughter).

BENNY: Nothing can stop me

RISTAINO: You've got just so much going on in your brain. It's hard to turn it off, right?

BENNY: I've got a yearning. It's like the call of the sirens from Odysseus, but instead of flesh-eating monsters, it's like a treasure trove of knowledge.

RISTAINO: And in fact, we went to a counselor, and we were saying, Benny never sleeps. And the counselor said, oh, you know, what do you think about at night? And he was thinking maybe you were anxious. And he said, well, you know, I think about what it would be like to go to the edge of the universe and look out.

BENNY: Well, I just wonder because it must be incomprehensible.

RISTAINO: Benny, what are your hopes for the future?

BENNY: Well, we've been so busy on my seizures that my sister doesn't get very much attention. She's left in the dark. And she's an extrovert. Is that how you say it?

RISTAINO: No, I think it's the opposite. She's an introvert, and you're the extrovert.

BENNY: Yeah.

RISTAINO: You're very social.

BENNY: Yeah.

RISTAINO: You've kind of been the focal point of the family over the last few years.

BENNY: I think we need to change that.

RISTAINO: Yeah. I'm so proud of you because you're so courageous in the face of something that's very scary.

BENNY: I've gone through some depression and anger, and I finally realize there's a galaxy of experiences. And I would say my friends have always been by my side. With friends, you're invincible.

RISTAINO: I love you very much.

BENNY: I love you too, mom.

RISTAINO: Sometimes you're the one that comforts me. You know that?

BENNY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That's Benny Smith with his mom Christine Ristaino at StoryCorps in Atlanta. That conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And the StoryCorps podcast is on iTunes and also at npr.org.

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