Sean Hamilton, CEO and co-founder of War on Epilepsy
When Sean Hamilton was 19, a traumatic event triggered the start of an ongoing battle with epilepsy. In spite of this affliction and many others that impact his health, Sean is a determined entrepreneur with his sights firmly set on developing ways to give independence to those inhibited by illness.
So how do you go about making a difference in the world, creating change or helping others, when life is making things hard? This was a dilemma facing Sean who, as well as suffering from epilepsy, also has a heart condition which can cause fainting and blackouts. Now 27, he has had job offers from organisations including the London Ambulance Service and Microsoft, but due to his health has unable to take up these opportunities.
“One thing I know is, I can’t do a full-time job,” he says, as we meet him and his father at Greenwich Ambulance Station, a location close to Sean’s heart. “I can’t really travel, I can’t commute in and I can’t guarantee that I can work full-time hours. So I was on the lookout for a better way to do what I wanted to do, and be in control of my own destiny.”
These are the two focal points of Sean’s endeavours today; helping people, and independence.
Despite struggling academically at school and being the “little shy kid with the milk-bottle glasses,” Sean dreamed of becoming a paramedic. Although his grades and health meant that this was likely to be an unachievable goal, his school sent him on a week-long course with the London Fire Brigade to broaden his perspective.
“I think they were trying to steer me in a different direction,” Sean concedes. “But it actually awoke something inside of me that made me realise there were other options than being a paramedic; other ways that I could help people.”
The other interest instrumental to Sean’s work today was technology. Having always had a natural affinity for computers and tech, he completed an IT apprenticeship through which he discovered a passion for entrepreneurship. It was this that spurred him on to work for himself, rather than for someone else.
Following his first epileptic fit after being attacked while at Buckinghamshire New University, Sean was forced to return home as his health issues snowballed. Through his IT contacts, he began using Microsoft wearable technology with sensors that monitor seizure activity and relay data back to medical teams. It was this that sparked Sean’s entrepreneurial vision.
“One of the things I started looking at was how we actually use that technology. How do I take the learnings from [the wearable tech] as well as some of the other stuff that I was already looking at, and go and do more?
“One dream I’d always had was to create my own charity, although some advice from my contacts within Microsoft suggested starting out as a business first. Create a fully-profitable commercial business, build things up that way and then define the charity later. That is basically how War on Epilepsy was born.”
An estimated 600,000 people in the UK – almost one in every 100 – are believed to suffer from epilepsy, with around 87 new diagnoses made every day. The condition costs the NHS around £2bn annually to treat, and leads to three per cent of all Accident and Emergency visits and 1.3 million days in hospital each year.
Through his own experiences, Sean realised that wearable med-tech doesn’t just benefit healthcare teams, but can also be used to help patients regain their own independence and reassure carers and families. It’s also a crucial data source for charities and other social enterprises, Sean points out: “How can we help organisations like the NHS or the Epilepsy Society with the work they already do, when they’re constantly over-stretched, under-resourced, under-funded, and struggling to cover costs?”
The solution, he says, lies in remote monitoring, made possible through wearable med-tech. “So instead of going to hospital for a test where they can't recreate the triggers or the scenario where you had the episode (and so highly unlikely to capture a true representation of the seizure) we can use ‘the future’, things like remote monitoring, to greater empower patients to take the lead in their own care.”
Sean’s pioneering approach to med-tech is helping solve medical issues as well as the societal implications. He tells us that there are at least three different forms of epilepsy that won't be captured on a CT scan, an MRI or an EEG, and so always-on wearable patient monitoring can make huge strides in completely informed treatment options and how well prescribed medication is working.
Fundamentally though, Sean’s aim is to empower those suffering from illness and disability. He says: “We want to not only provide as much support as possible to those with disabilities and support those that are long-term unemployed back into work, but also to look at how we can encourage the government to bring about changes. Changes that empower those with disabilities to take the lead, not just in their own care but to say ‘this is how you can help someone with this condition and this is how this should become standard.’”
One of War on Epilepsy’s main aims is to look to challenge and reframe the perception of disabled workers as “differently-abled”, he says. “Disability isn’t always a weakness. Particularly after I come around from a seizure, my brain often tends to spin out loads of different ideas, ones that no one else has thought of.
“Often, people with disabilities think differently from those who are fully-able bodied, because they have their own challenges to overcome, assessing and overcoming problems, and they have to look at things differently.”
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