Cameron Boyce, the 20-year-old star of Disney Channel's Descendents franchise, died due a seizure suffered in his sleep on Saturday night, according to a statement by his family as quoted in a CNN report. But no further information about the young teen idol's death was available and Boyce's family only said that his fatal seizure was the result of "an ongoing medical condition for which he was being treated."
A seizure is defined by The Mayo Clinic as "a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain." Seizures can be mild and sometimes go completely unnoticed, but more severe seizures can cause disorientation, behavioral changes, violent convulsions, and as in Boyce's case, even death.
But the condition known as epilepsy can cause repeated or frequent seizures that can result in fatalities, a poorly understood phenomenon known as "Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy" or SUDEP. According to journalist and bestselling author Kurt Eichenwald, who has often written about his own epilepsy, Boyce's death is consistent with an epileptic condition. Writing on his Twitter account, Eichenwald called Boyce's untimely passing, "a terrible reminder that a number of people die every day from epilepsy."
Whether Boyce had suffered seizures in the past has not been made public. The Mayo Clinic defines epilepsy as having two seizures or more, or "a tendency to have recurrent seizures."
Why epileptic seizures may result in sudden unexpected death is unclear to scientists. According to Eichenwald, writing on Twitter, "no one quite knows why it happens," though some scientists believe that it results from the seizure victim becoming unable to breathe due to the epileptic episode.
"There is not enough effective money for research because people don't know epilepsy kills," Eichenwald wrote.
Boyce's fans, as well as other epilepsy sufferers, also took to Twitter to warn against what they said is the common misconception that epilepsy is not a potentially fatal condition.
"People are seeing that actor Cameron Boyce died from a seizure and are messaging me asking 'wait, can your epilepsy kill you?'" wrote Twitter user Indie Gamer Chick. "Uh, yeah. It's on the table. I've stopped breathing at least twice from the in my life and one time hit my head collapsing from one."Others called for increased awareness of epilepsy, and the precautions that can be taken to reduce the chance of SUDEP. According to SUDEP Action, epilepsy sufferers should consult with a doctor regularly and have anyone who has observed the victim's seizures provide descriptions — either written or in person — of exactly what happened during the seizures, to allow doctors to make informed treatment decisions.