Natalia grew up in New York City, earned her BA in Ancient Greek and Latin at Swarthmore College, and now is back in school at UC Berkeley and City College of San Francisco as a post-baccalaureate to apply to become a doctor specializing in epilepsy and computational neuroscience. She worked as the director of the foreign language school ABC Languages until she was diagnosed with epilepsy. Now she acts as a research assistant at UCSF’s Kleen Lab conducting epilepsy research, volunteers with Epilepsy Foundation as the facilitator for support groups, therapy skills groups, and seizure first aid training. She also teaches Latin, math, science, history, and language and enjoys painting, playing guitar and piano, writing, and reading.
Carlos was born and raised in Spain and moved to the States to pursue his passion for photography, a passion that led him to a successful career in the developing and growing of a high tech engineering and manufacturing company in the Midwest. After fourteen years he decided to make a change in his life and follow a path more focused on social responsibility, joining our foundation in May of 2017. He lived four years in Hawaii and he now enjoys beautiful Alameda in company of his wife and his dog. They love exploring all the amazing opportunities the Bay Area brings them culturally.
Makani grew up in Minnesota and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences from the University of Minnesota. They are finishing their Master’s Degree in Sport and Performance Psychology. Makani’s background involves working with those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities in both the school settings and private homes. They were also given the opportunity in 2014 to spend three weeks in Thailand with the Deaf Community. During their undergraduate degree they worked closely with an individual with epilepsy, and wanted to do more. The focus for their thesis was driven by their passion for those with epilepsy. They then completed their first triathlon to raise awareness and inclusion for those with epilepsy, and ever since then wanted to be involved in future events. In 2017, Makani moved to California to work in the school districts, private practice, and an Adult Day Center as a Speech-Language-Pathologist Assistant. Makani was looking for a shift in their career and was given the opportunity to focus more directly with the Epilepsy Community. Makani enjoys endurance sports and participates in Ironman distance triathlons. During training season they are able to explore more of Northern California and climb through the mountains.
Elizabeth is a Bay Area native working on completing her Master’s degree in Public Health from UC Berkeley. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Cal State East Bay as well as an Early Childhood Education certificate from the College of San Mateo. She has worked in various roles in education for the past 8 years such as a Behavioral Therapist for children with Autism, Pre-K and 2nd grade teacher and she now works in Development and Fundraising at an Independent Private School. Elizabeth’s interest in epilepsy came about when a close family member was diagnosed in high school. She feels it is important to be an ally and advocate in order to create policy change around epilepsy.
MEET THE SUPPORT GROUP VOLUNTEERS
Spanish Speaking Support Group Facilitator
Stephanie Suarez has been a middle school Spanish teacher in the Tri-Valley for the past two years, and worked for the Lawrence Livermore Lab as a group leader during the pandemic. She is currently thirty years old and was diagnosed with JME sixteen years ago. With ongoing focals and tonic clonics, Stephanie has found being a member of the Northern California Epilepsy Foundation life-saving. She first entered simply as a member of the adult support group, and has now grown into leading the Spanish support group.
Young Adults Support Group Facilitator
Katie Nunn is the facilitator for the adolescent support group. She was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 6 and has worked with people with epilepsy while simultaneously researching epilepsy throughout her career. As a student at UC Davis, she worked in the invasive cognitive neurophysiology lab and later in the Brooks-Kayal Lab. She has also participated in a summer program at the University of Chicago which led to her publishing a paper as a co-author in Epilepsia in early 2023 and presenting her work at an academic conference. At the moment, she is working as a Clinical Coordinator for Sutter Health at CPMC in ALS and is planning to become a pediatric neurologist in order to work with children and adolescents with epilepsy, utilizing her own experiences to help others as a clinician.
Older Adults with Epilepsy Support Group Co-Facilitator
Maralou Higgins is a volunteer facilitator for the senior support group. As a retired teacher with over 30 years of professional and volunteer work with adults and children, she has worked with groups on everything from basic literacy to robotics and computer technology. Maralou joined the Epilepsy Foundation groups as an Adult Art Therapy Program member. This program helped her remember her love of arts, crafts, and writing. Now she participates in the Adult Support Group, as well as the Writing, Crafting Group, and the First Aid Training program.
Older Adults with Epilepsy Support Group Co-Facilitator
Yarrow Rubin is a patient navigator and support group leader. She lives on her family homestead on the Mendocino County coast, where she and her husband raised their three now adult children. Yarrow is a retired midwife and has experienced volunteering at a clinic in Nepal and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Yarrow’s adult life has been informed by epilepsy, after her first seizure at 21 years old. She finds learning about epilepsy, blogging about it and participating in epilepsy advocacy and support groups greatly fulfilling. Yarrow enjoys being active in her Jewish community. She loves to read, to cook, crafting, nature, plants, the ocean, to travel, and going to museums.
Volunteer Support Group Facilitator
Amanda Parker is a volunteer at the Northern California Epilepsy Foundation. She graduated from California State University Sacramento with a degree in Child Development in 2015. Currently she is involved in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities program at UC Davis Mind Institute. She was 27 when she was diagnosed with epilepsy. She has tonic clonic seizures, focal impaired awareness seizures, psychogenic non epileptic seizures, and autism spectrum disorder. She is a member of the adult art group and adult support group. She loves to be busy in her spare time with special Olympics, reading, art, and spending time with her friends, family, and dog.
Volunteer Hobby Group Facilitator
Born and raised in the South Bay Area, Vianna was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 12. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development. Currently she is a tutor for English as a second language for Korean students and a math tutor. She’s been a preschool teacher and a homeschool teacher. She enjoys mountain biking, hiking, skiing, and camping. She also enjoys sewing, doing puzzles, listening to music, and writing.
Volunteer Hobby Group Facilitator
Raised in Beavercreek, Ohio, Gerald has served in the US Navy, where he worked on fixed and rotary wing aircraft, he was medically discharged for seizures. He has also worked in alcohol and drug treatment for over 2 decades
while living in San Jose. During that time, Gerald’s work ranged from individual case management, clerical support for treatment centers, and coordinating court reports that focused on helping individuals overcome combined
legal, substance use, and mental health issues as well as employment and housing searches.
After his seizures increased and interfered with his employment, Gerald retired to Grants Pass Oregon and continues to participate with the NorCal epilepsy foundation groups where he finds support, comfort and purpose.He spends his time watching the wildlife in the lake behind his home, walking his dog Rylie through vast parks, and trying new hobbies.
Kimberly Bari, who grew up in CT, has a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from Elon University along with a Master’s Degree in education from Loyola University Maryland. She taught elementary school up in Spokane, WA before moving to China to teach English. In returning to the states, she came to San Francisco to complete the TESOL program at UC Berkeley Extension. With a love for teaching and traveling, she also enjoys spending time with family and friends, practicing yoga, and exploring the city. Kimberly’s interest in epilepsy relates to her personal experience. She has joined our group with the interest of providing support and assistance within the community. If you would like to learn more about her journey in living with epilepsy and receiving treatment through UCSF, you can watch her TV episode called “Rebooting Kimberly’s Brain”.