For free-lance writer Paula Ogburn of Orange, it was the most difficult writing challenge she had ever faced.
Her assignment: to write a first-person account of her experiences living and coping with epilepsy, a condition diagnosed after she had her first seizure at the age of 3.
Ogburn's just-completed 30-page manuscript will be recorded by Duval Media Inc., a Costa Mesa company that produces educational audiocassettes designed to offer hope and support to people with a variety of debilitating illnesses and disorders.
"It's real tough to sift through a lifetime of experience and make it come out positive," said Ogburn, 38, one of nearly a dozen writers who have been hired to write scripts for Duval Media.
Founded by retired high school teacher Neva Duyndam in 1988, the small company has produced audiocassette titles dealing with such illnesses and disorders as Parkinson's disease, Tourette Syndrome, narcolepsy, schizophrenia and manic depression.
The 35- to 50-minute tapes, which sell for $9.95, are recorded in a Santa Ana studio, with Duyndam and free-lance announcer and actor Darrel Favrhow of Mission Viejo doing the narrations.
Duyndam said the scripts for each of the tapes were written by someone with an "intimate knowledge" of each illness or disorder: a patient, family member or care giver.
In one tape written by Betty Hyland of Altadena, Hyland describes how it feels to be the mother of an adult son with schizophrenia.
In another tape, on Tourette Syndrome, Nancy Freeman of Richmond, Va., talks about what it was like when her 10-year-old brother began blurting obscenities and other inappropriate language.
Duyndam said the audiocassettes provide more than information about symptoms and the difficulty of diagnosis: They shed light on how the individuals have accepted and adapted to their illnesses so that they can lead rewarding lives. The tapes also are beneficial for helping health-care professionals understand the problems of coping with a chronic disease or illness, she said.
No matter how different each illness or disorder is, Duyndam said, all of the manuscripts she has received reflect "a very positive approach" toward each illness.
"All of them stress that you need to take control of your life," she said, adding, "I'm really moved by people who face a challenge with courage. I also think that education is tremendously important and if people understand something they can cope more easily with it."
Duyndam's motivation to start her company was a personal one.
"My mom had Parkinson's disease, and when I retired I became one of the major care givers," said Duyndam, who taught English and history at Dr. Russell I. Johnson Middle School in Westminster until 1985. "We often talked about how it would be nice to have information available to the patient and family, especially something inspiring. We felt very alone. This is something to say that you're not alone."
Although Duyndam is aware of individual audiocassettes on such topics as cancer or sexual dysfunction, she believes hers is the only company producing a full line of illness-related tapes.
The response to her tapes has been positive.
Jolie Bou of the American Narcolepsy Assn. calls the one on narcolepsy, a disorder that causes a frequent and uncontrollable desire for sleep, "an inspiring tape that presents the problems narcolepsy can cause in an interesting, simple and straight-forward manner."
Bou, whose organization will include information about the tape in its next newsletter, urges "someone with narcolepsy to get the tape and donate it to schools, libraries or whatever--to get the tape out there."
Says Ogburn: "Isolation is a thread that runs through all these ailments. . . . The value of the tape is to allow the individual to have a sense that they're not alone. It helps to break apart their feelings of isolation."
Duyndam, who advertises in nursing journals and counseling magazines, said that some public and medical school libraries have ordered the tapes and she plans to make them available for sale in pharmacies, grocery stores and bookstores.
She also is looking for more writers to write about topics such as Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, juvenile diabetes and crack babies. For more information, call (714) 631-3445.
Book Signings: Stuart Woods ("Palindrome") will sign from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Book Carnival, 870 N. Tustin Ave., Orange. . . . Scott Cunningham, who has written nine books on White Magic ("the art of using the natural forces for the good"), will sign from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at Visions and Dreams, 1804 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. . . . Children's book author Theodore Taylor of Laguna Beach ("Tuck Triumphant") will sign from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Children's Bookshoppe, 1831 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach. . . . Landscape architect Helaine Kaplan Prentice ("The Gardens of Southern California") will sign and do a slide-show presentation at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sherman Library and Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar.