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Epileptic Whose Attacks are Triggered by Hearing Mary Hart Goes Public

August 5, 1991

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ A woman whose seizures were triggered by the voice of ″Entertainment Tonight″ host Mary Hart said Monday she felt obliged to go public to counter misconceptions about epilepsy.

Dianne Neale’s identity was not disclosed when her doctor, Venkrat Ramani of the Albany Medical Center Hospital, described her condition in a letter published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Ramani said her brain waves are disrupted by some voices electronically transmitted over the airwaves or a telephone line, including Ms. Hart’s.

At a news conference, Mrs. Neale revealed that she was fired by her former employer, allegedly because she is epileptic, and is suing for alleged discrimination.

The 49-year-old woman complained that her medical condition ″was treated as a joke by Johnny Carson and David Letterman.″

″I want to make sure that people understand that I am not ‘crazy’ and that people with epilepsy are not dangerous or mentally ill, but have a physical problem, and that it is no funnier than someone being in a wheelchair or having a heart condition,″ she told reporters.

Mrs. Neale said she experienced unexplained dizzy spells for years until Ramani traced their cause. Ramani’s letter attracted worldwide publicity.

Mrs. Neale said she filed a lawsuit two years ago against Community Hospital of Schoharie County in Cobleskill ″because they treated me very unfairly.″

″I was an excellent employee of the hospital, and was able to do my job very well,″ she said.

She said hospital employees were aware of her condition in 1988 when they reassigned her from a job as Medicaid biller to a cashier.

Requiring her to talk frequently with clients on the phone made her more vulnerable to seizures by subjecting her to the sort of electronic voice transmissions that affected her and by raising stress levels, she said.

″They knew about my medical problem, and I told them the new job would cause me to have additional seizures,″ Mrs. Neale said. ″Nevertheless, they ordered me to take the new job.″

On Nov. 1, 1988, during a day on the job Mrs. Neale described as chaotic, she felt a seizure coming on. As she tried to pass a call on to a fellow worker, Mrs. Neale says she blacked out and was later told that she had insulted the client in the process.

The hospital maintains that Mrs. Neale resigned voluntarily and that the incident was not related to her medical condition.

″There’s no way to prove by medical evidence that this conduct was the result of a medical disability,″ said attorney Robert Ganz, who is representing Community Hospital.

Mrs. Neale sued the hospital on charges of wrongful firing, failure to reasonably accommodate her disability, and causing emotional distress and illness in an attempt to force her to quit her job.

Mrs. Neale’s lawyers said they are waiting for a trial date to be set for her case. They are demanding that Mrs. Neale be reinstated to a position at the hospital that will accommodate her disability, and receive compensation for the damages she’s suffered since losing her $30,000-a-year job.

Mrs. Neale declined to answer reporters’ questions or say where she is living in Schoharie County, about 35 miles west of Albany.

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