Television reporter Mark McAllister opens up about epilepsy two years after on-air seizure

Mark McAllisterCanadian television broadcaster Mark McAllister attained an unfortunate moment of infamy two years ago when he garbled a live segment on Global Toronto. The incident was mocked at the time as a simple blooper, it was actually a partial seizure — a side effect of a medical condition McAllister did not realize he was suffering.

McAllister was diagnosed with epilepsy less than a month later, and has been balancing the affliction with his family life and career ever since. McAllister will publicly discuss his condition for the first time in a weekend news feature, part of which will air on Global Toronto Thursday evening.

[ Brew Archives: Global reporter feeling better after on-air incoherence ]

McAllister spoke with Yahoo! Canada News ahead of that broadcast.

Y! Let’s talk first about the on-air incident in 2011. Is that the first time something like that had happened to you?

No, it was the first time it was as public as it was. I had been experiencing what my wife and I had been calling “episodes” prior to that – moments where I would lose my train of thought or would just stop speaking for moments at a time. I had no idea what it was, and had just began asking doctors when it happened on air.

Y! When did you know things weren’t exactly right? Could you tell the words weren’t coming out right?

Yeah, within a matter of seconds I knew I wasn’t saying what I was supposed to say. That was probably the most frustrating thing about it. Afterwards, realizing, “that didn’t go right.” In the moment I was aware. It was what they call a complex partial seizure, which basically means you are still aware of your surroundings…. It wasn’t until the end, when I was finally able to say sorry and throw it back to the anchor desk, that I was able to spit something out.

Y! As a broadcast veteran, it must have been very frustrating for you.

My job is to communicate and be able to speak. And to not be able to do that was frustrating, was hard. Soon afterwards, looking back on it, I didn’t know what that meant. For that to happen to me on the air, I immediately thought my career was in jeopardy. But, aside from that, I also had my health to worry about.

Y! Is that when you were first diagnosed with epilepsy?

No, it took some time. In the immediate aftermath our producers called 911. At that point I was telling them I was fine. The paramedics said I looked fine, but maybe see your doctors. I ended up going to Toronto Western Hospital, had an MRI done, did a couple other tests and they came to the conclusion that it was epilepsy. They detected a lesion on the left side of my brain.

Y! How has your life changes, and what kind of treatment are you receiving?

There are a number of things. You are immediately prescribed medication. I went through a time period where I was trying those medications to a certain dosage. I eventually reached a point where they started working. I have been seizure free for seven or eight months. Beyond medication, they tell you to get as much sleep as you can. That helps anyone, but it certainly helps people with epilepsy.

Y! Looking back the incident got a lot of attention. It was on the Jimmy Kimmel show. How much did that bother you?

It was difficult. The fact that it went viral like that, you can’t help but get caught up in it yourself. I did my best to try and ignore all of that because I had other things to focus on. Getting my career back on track and my personal health. By pushing that aside, it let me concentrate on what I needed to concentrate on. I can honestly say that it hurt.

A preview of Focus Ontario: Inside Epilepsy will air tonight on Global Toronto’s News Hour, and the feature will air in full on Saturday, March 9 at 5:30 p.m. EST. Continue the conversation on Twitter using #InsideEpilepsy.

Interview has been condensed for space and clarity.