One Woman's Struggle to Live in a World With Music


At first, Stacey Gayle thought she was losing her mind. Just the thought that music could cause a medical disaster seemed ridiculous … after all, five years ago, Gayle was a normal college student. But that was before.

"Before, life was great actually. I had a good job. I was going to church, I was going to school," Gayle said. "I had big dreams."

But then, her life was put on hold. One night while asleep, she passed out.

"All I remember is waking up in the hospital and … the nurse was standing over me and telling me that I had a seizure and I didn't even know what a seizure was at that time, so I was a little bit frightened."


After two years and many more seizures, she finally got a diagnosis: epilepsy. Like nearly three million other Americans, Gayle had an abnormal pattern of electrical activity in her brain.

Medication didn't help much, and worse yet, Gayle and her doctors had no idea what was triggering her intense seizures, or how rare a case she really was, until one day in the summer of 2006.

She was at a barbecue and remembers hearing a hot new hip-hop song called "Temperature," by Caribbean singer Sean Paul.

"My friend and I were just standing there — all I remember is the song came on. And I just remember like falling out and having a big seizure," Gayle said. "I realized that every time it came on, I was there having seizures. I could — as soon as the first beat came on, I'd just go into a seizure, I'm not certain why."

Was it possible that her seizures really be triggered by a song?

"I definitely thought I was crazy," she said.

One in 10 Million

It sounded strange, but Gayle's doctors at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center had actually heard of such a thing.

As bizarre as it sounded, Gayle's suspicion was finally confirmed when doctors admitted her to the Long Island Jewish Medical Center for a series of tests.

After hooking her up to a brain imaging machine, they waited.

"She didn't have any seizures for three, four days … so we figured, oh boy, well, we'll have to just bring her back another day," said Dr. Ashesh Mehta, LIJ's director of epilepsy surgery at the center.

Gayle suggested that she come in with her iPod to "make" herself have seizures.

"She played it all night long," Dr. Mehta said. "And she had three seizures that night."

Her doctors suspected she was suffering from "musicogenic" epilepsy.

"I had heard of musicogenic epilepsy. I'd certainly read about it," said Dr. Mehta. "So I knew that this could happen. Of course, given how rare it is … the prevalence … was something like one in 10 million, by some estimates."

In fact, there have only been 100 cases documented, and Gayle is now one of them.

Seeking Solace From Music

It is known that epilepsy can be triggered by strong scents or flashing lights. When Prince Charles and Camilla appeared together for the first time, television stations were asked to slow down the footage because the intensity of flashbulbs could cause seizures.

But triggers have been known to take bizarre forms.

In the 1990s, a woman reported having seizures triggered by the voice of "Entertainment Tonight" host Mary Hart.

For Gayle, the mystery of her epileptic trigger was now resolved. But her situation became even more dire. Soon music of almost any kind was causing her seizures … sometimes up to 10 times a day.

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