Kiwi radio host Kath Bier's shock discovery that she has epilepsy and how she has learned to live with it

'I thought I was losing my mind. All morning I knew something wasn't quite right and all of a sudden I could feel a sense that something big was going to happen.'

By Amy Prebble
On the day before she was due to run the 2014 Dunedin Half Marathon, bubbly radio presenter Kath Bier fell to the ground and started shaking. She was aware of her surroundings but couldn't get out of the state she was in.
"I thought I was losing my mind," she recalls. "All morning I knew something wasn't quite right and all of a sudden I could feel a sense that something big was going to happen. In the back of my mind, after it all had happened, I was able to grasp on to the knowledge that my sister had been diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 29. But when it was all happening to me that just didn't occur to me."
Kath's seizures kept coming so she was taken to hospital for tests, including being assessed at the psychiatric unit, but a definitive diagnosis wasn't reached. Despite this, she still completed the run the next day.
"I wanted to finish that and then I was going to deal with what was happening to me," she says.
"Halfway through, I had what I now know was a seizure and my friend Nikki was just amazing. She picked me up and dusted me off. She knew that if I couldn't complete it, it would actually be quite devastating for me."
Back home in Wellington, a neurologist confirmed Kath (43) has temporal lobe epilepsy and that life was about to change somewhat for her, husband Mark (43), and her children Jesse (13) and Gus (10).
Kath and Mark, who have been together since they were 19, were both in a state of denial.
"It took him a little bit to get his head around it," says Kath. But Mark quickly learned what his wife of 19 years needs when she experiences a seizure − physical contact.
"What you need is the warmth of humanity basically because you're lost and when you come out of it, you feel incredibly embarrassed and filled with shame and guilt that you've stuffed things up for people or you've made people uncomfortable," she says.
Kath with hubby Mark and Fox the dog.
"For me, I need to know where I am. I need to know what day it is and I need someone to help bring me back into the now. That is so important."
As for Jesse and Gus, they weren't sure about the diagnosis. "I used to worry about Mum when we were out," says Gus. "That she would have a seizure and die. But now it's all good. I don't worry as much."
Jesse adds, "Actually, I didn't think anything of it! Maybe because the way Mum told us, it was like no big deal."
Kath wasn't able to drive for a year until her medication was right and the seizures had finally stopped.
"Boy, did I learn the public transport in Wellington," she laughs.
"The boys had trampolining in Tawa and we live in Petone. To get from Petone to Tawa at 5.30pm on a Tuesday night wasn't easy."
She was also worried the boys wouldn't cope. But she says, "I learned the boys were actually really capable of stepping up. They were fantastic."
For the most part, Kath has tried to carry on as normal.
"I remember being faced with two very real choices. It was when I walked out the front door and I went to go down the driveway. I opened the gate and was like, 'I don't want to, I could have a seizure.' At that moment, I could just go back home, which is what I actually wanted to do. Or I could just go. I chose the 'just go' option."
Kath says her colleagues at The Breeze have also been incredibly supportive. She has hosted the breakfast show with Steve Joll for the last eight years and the pair know each other very well.
"I did have seizures on air. Most of the time it would be when I was not talking, but I can remember there's one very clear moment where I was opening my mouth to talk and I had to look at Steve and give him a signal to say 'I'm out' because I get a sense of when something is going to happen. We have a system in place at work and it works really well. We're able to carry on and most people would never know."
Initially Kath didn't want to discuss her epilepsy on air, but once she was confident with how she was dealing with it, she spoke up.
"The listeners' support was so cool," she tells.
"One guy stopped me in the street a couple of years ago and said, 'I heard you talking about epilepsy. My daughter has it and she's really struggling to get on with things, but we listened to you talking about it and it's really given her encouragement.'"

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