By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - One minute, Tannon Snow was doing laundry in her apartment. The next, she was on the ground, concussed from a fall that left three big bumps on her forehead.
The next thing Tannon remembers is riding in an ambulance to the hospital. It was September 2016, her first semester at Auburn after transferring from Washington.
"'You had a seizure," the emergency medical technician told her. "I don't remember anything. After each one, I'm really confused, out of it, dazed. I'm really tired. I can sleep for six to seven hours. It takes everything out of me.
"Seizures are like storms happening in your brain. So much is going on. Everything is going wild in there. That's basically what happens when you have one."
Seven years earlier, as a sixth grader in Southern California, Tannon had her first seizure in the kitchen. Her CT scan and MRI were clear. Her doctor said a child having a seizure was not uncommon.
Through middle school, high school and her freshman year at Washington, Tannon became an elite softball player. That first seizure, it appeared, had been a fluke. An isolated incident.
She continued to practice with Auburn's softball team, with hopes of a starring role in 2017.
In January 2017, Tannon had two more seizures, followed by four in February. Her family, coaches and doctors decided it would be best for Snow to return home to California for medical attention.
Snow squad (l/r): Parents Trista and Craig Snow, with daughters Talee, Tannon and Taylon, with father, Craig. Photo: Cat Wofford/Auburn Athletics
She took online classes, but softball, along with the privilege of driving a car, became casualties of her illness. The breakout season would have to wait.
"When you're not able to drive, it is so hard," Tannon said. "It is really hard when you're not able to do things that you are used to doing on a daily basis. When those things are taken away from you, it's hard."
After several months without seizures, Tannon returned to Auburn last fall along with her younger sister, Taylon, a freshman on Auburn's softball team.
Her seizures resumed.
"I was scared," she said. "I went through a period of not wanting to be alone."
Doctors ran multiple tests, but could not answer Tannon's most pressing question. Why?
"The uncertainty was miserable," she said.
Tannon keeps a log on her phone of her seizures. Counting her first one in sixth grade and her first at Auburn, she's had 22. Tonic-clonic, or grand mal, seizures begin with a loss of consciousness, followed by muscle convulsions that last up to two minutes.
In an attempt to prevent recurrence, Tannon takes 10 pills a day.
"Right now, it's trial and error with medications, which is a wear and tear on your body, because side effects are terrible," she said.
For Tannon, one side effect was even more hurtful than losing the ability to drive and play softball.
"My personality totally changed and I had no idea that it did. It was the medications that changed it," said Tannon, who became aware of the change only when her mom told Tannon's doctor in Newport Beach, California.
"I dIdn't know I could be moody to people and treat them poorly, because that's not me," she said. "I was treating my family differently. That was really hard. Really, really hard. That was probably one of the hardest things, trying to overcome that and get the medicine balanced because that took a toll on me. That was tough."
In November 2017, a doctor at UAB diagnosed Tannon with epilepsy. Every three months, she returns to UAB for doctor's appointments.
Next month, Tannon will take part in a study at UAB's Kirklin Clinic that will last four to seven days, without her medications. An electroencephalography, or EEG, will monitor her brain's electrical activity. The result will determine the next step in her treatment.
Tannon and her sister, Taylon (left), walk to greet their parents and sister before Auburn's game against Arkansas on April 20. Photo: Cat Wofford/Auburn Athletics
This Snow Rises
Fear of having another seizure remains something Tannon must manage, especially when symptoms -- a metal taste in her mouth and headaches -- present.
"I had to overcome that, and that took a while," she said. "It took a long time. Sometimes, I'll get that piercing headache and I get anxiety. 'I can't have one. I don't want to have one.' And I get scared. And I don't need that because that builds up stress and you don't need that stress."
To reduce stress, Tannon takes spin classes. She also keeps a journal, which she says has helped her process. "Sometimes putting emotions on paper is the exact release I need," she wrote on social media.
In February, Tannon created an Instagram account, this_snow_rises, writing, "I hope to dedicate this page to my journey and to encourage others with epilepsy to continue to pursue their dreams."
"I made my Instagram for people to reach out and I'm now open to it," she said. "Anyone who is struggling with anything, doesn't have to be epilepsy, with anything, I'm open to help and be there to talk and cope with anything, so I'm here."
In sharing her story, Snow found community, engaging with others who have epilepsy.
"When you can connect with people and they understand what you're going through because they're living it too, it's much easier," she said.
Tannon's teammates have helped, offering rides to practice, class and errands.
"They'll see me walking down the road and scoop me up, because I'm always walking everywhere," she said. "They've been so supportive. Coach [Mickey] Dean has had players who have had seizures, so he's been used to it."
Athletic trainer Lana Meeks serves as Tannon's first responder, should a seizure occur when Snow is with the softball team.
"Lana has been incredible," Tannon said. "She's been my rock. She's my mom away from home."
Sometimes, epilepsy makes me miss a class or practice, but my sister, teammates, coaches, trainers and counselors have been so supportive keeping me on track! War Eagle! This_snow_rises, Feb. 7, Instagram
Rise Above Epilepsy
Determined to return to her sport, Tannon serves as Auburn's designated player, appearing in every game but one this season. She hopes to complete her comeback by playing in the field in 2019.
"Next fall, I plan to be out there," she said. "That's the goal. It's been tough. If you're o-fer [hitless], you want to be able to perform on the field. That's the hard part. I don't have that luxury of doing that. I have to take it in a different route. It's different, but I've accepted it. I enjoy my role. I like it. I'm having fun out there."
Nothing was more fun for Tannon than March 24, when her home run in the bottom of the 12th inning gave Auburn a 1-0 win over Kentucky.
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) March 25, 2018
"It's up there. It's on top, for sure."
🗣@t_snow9 on her walk-off HR in 12th inning in 1-0 @AuburnSoftball win vs. Kentucky
Tips her 🧢 to WP @KayleeDenise_16: "This is for her." pic.twitter.com/Gz3JQFoWfr
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) March 25, 2018
"Having a positive outlook makes everything, not easier, but you enjoy life a little bit more," said Tannon, whose perspective has changed because of epilepsy. No longer is softball, no matter how high the stakes, a matter of life and death.
"That's what I tell myself," she said. "It's just a game. Relax. It's just another at-bat."
In March, Tannon's family surprised her with purple "Rise Above Epilepsy" bracelets, which she shared with her teammates.
Before Auburn's 11-1 win against Arkansas on April 20, Tannon's teammates wore purple ribbons in her honor. Tannon's sisters and parents threw the ceremonial first pitch.
"It's been just incredible to have the support system alongside me with my family and teammates and everybody," she said, after going for 2-for-3 with two RBI.
Tannon and her teammates wore purple ribbons against Arkansas to support her journey with epilepsy. Photo: Cat Wofford/Auburn Athletics
'Bring it on'
Independence Day 2018 could have a special meaning for Tannon Snow. On July 3, she will have been seizure free for six months, allowing her to drive again. Independence indeed.
In the meantime, she'll be in the lineup next week when Auburn plays in an NCAA regional.
"You have a different outlook on life," she said. "You see things in a different way. Maybe that's my different way of looking at things. Maybe that's what's helping?"
Spending so much time in hospitals and doctor's offices reaffirmed Tannon's goal to become a nurse.
"While playing a sport and realizing there are other athletes going through something, I want to be an advocate and be a voice," she said.
The question Tannon Snow most wanted answered -- Why me? -- has been replaced with a rhetorical one, documented in her journal.
"'Why not me?'" she said. "Why not? I can take this on. There are other people who are taking on challenges, so bring it on. Let's go. This is what I have and I'm taking it on."
With one home run swing, Tannon helped Auburn defeat Kentucky 1-0 in 12 innings on March 24. Photos: Cat Wofford/Auburn Athletics
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer