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Atkins firefighter discusses her battle with narcolepsy on World Narcolepsy Day

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 10:56 PM CDT
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ATKINS, Iowa (KCRG) - Narcolepsy can leave you feeling that way in the middle of the day.

Tara O’Connor is a firefighter and EMT for Atkins Volunteer Fire Department. She’s learned to overcome narcolepsy, and is using World Narcolepsy Day, held every year on September 22, to tell her story.

O’Connor joined the department two years ago at age 22. She wanted to do it right after high school but had to figure out what was wrong first.

“I just knew I couldn’t right away, cause I was always tired,” O’Connor said. “I got misdiagnosed with a lot of different things. I was misdiagnosed with ADHD, ODD, anxiety, depression.”

O’Connor was diagnosed with Narcolepsy in 2019. She takes medicine to sleep at night and to keep her up during the day and takes naps daily. She doesn’t go on night calls with the fire department.

“Just because people like me have narcolepsy doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want to do,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor volunteers with Project Sleep, a non-profit that elevates the voices of people with sleeping disorders, aiming to erase negative stereotypes.

“Hollywood has portrayed narcolepsy inaccurately to make it seem like people could be in the middle of a conversation, and standing, and just fall over asleep,” Julie Flygare with Project Sleep, said. “And it’s sometimes to comedic effect.”

O’Connor hopes sharing her story, which she also did on this blog, will help others overcome barriers.

“It took me 20 years to get diagnosed with narcolepsy,” O’Connor said. “I just really want others to have to go through that.”

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