Alison Marie Hylan, 18, freshman studying screenwriting at Drexel U.


Alison Marie Hylan, whose struggle with epilepsy and determination to have a normal life became an inspiration to others, died Sunday at Drexel University in Philadelphia after a seizure. She was 18.

Miss Hylan, a freshman screenwriting student, was born in Annapolis. She was raised in Pasadena and Arnold, where she moved with her family in 2000.

"She started writing as a child, and when she was older she'd enter poetry contests and get her things published," said her mother, Jan E. Hylan, a second-grade teacher at Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Glen Burnie.

Miss Hylan graduated from Broadneck High School last year. She had been president of the school's Best Buddies Club, which helps developmentally challenged students integrate with their teenage peers. She also had been a member of the Key Club, a community service organization, and edited its newsletter.

Miss Hylan's epilepsy was diagnosed when she was a third-grader.

"Sometimes there were periods of absence because of her illness, but she'd come back to school and fight tooth and nail to get caught up. Her death came as an awful shock to us," said Mark Ellis, who teaches speech and creative writing at Broadneck.

"We discuss many different issues in my class, and she had the unique ability in being able and willing to speak her mind. She was fearless," he said. "She was also a talented and insightful writer who was always concerned with the way other people are treated."

Several summers ago, Miss Hylan began attending Camp Great Rock in Laytonsville, for epileptic children.

"When she came as a camper, we quickly realized her abilities and made her a counselor-in-training. She worked well with children and could empathize with them and their concerns," said Sandra Cushner Weinstein, a clinical therapist and clinical social worker who is the camp's director.

"She had big goals for herself and was excited about going off to college. She was very committed to going out and doing things. She was determined not to let anything get her down," Ms. Weinstein said. "She was a determined woman who just happened to have epilepsy."

Miss Hylan's seizures seemed to come under control after neurologists at Johns Hopkins Hospital implanted a vagus nerve stimulator two years ago.

"She only had one or two a year," her mother said. "She fought her epilepsy and didn't want to be mollycoddled. The only thing she wanted to do was to live a normal teenager's life."

"It's a hard process," Ms. Weinstein said. "Epilepsy can be controlled through medication or surgery. In some cases, it comes back or people grow out of it."

Miss Hylan began studying at Drexel last fall. She hoped to eventually work in Hollywood and with her brother, Leo P. Hylan III, a senior film student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and "they talked about doing movies together one day," Mrs. Hylan said.

"She had only completed one term at Drexel, but that was enough time for her vivacity and good humor to win her many friends. She will be missed," said a posting on the Drexel Web site reporting her death.

A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Andrew by the Bay Roman Catholic Church, 701 College Parkway, Arnold.

In addition to her mother and brother, Miss Hylan is survived by her father, Leo P. Hylan, a Baltimore attorney.

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