Communications student dies from epileptic seizure

State Hornet Staff

Sacramento State communication studies student died following an epileptic seizure on May 6.

Russell Nowotenski, 24, worked as a lab assistant for Communication Studies Chair Steven Buss and was enrolled in his advanced lighting class while working in Sutter Memorial’s emergency room. Friends and faculty said he was passionate about his work with technology while maintaining a sense of humor.

Doug Nowotenski, 28, said doctors believe the cause of his brother’s death was Sudden Unexplained Death by Epilepsy, which medical personnel do not understand but all epileptics are at risk for.

Doug Nowotenski said his brother was 16 when he was diagnosed with epilepsy, which kept him from his dream of being an Air Force pilot, like his older brother David. He did not let his condition inhibit him from pursuing other goals, such as filming and video editing.

“When he found something he didn’t know about and found it interesting, he would attack it and learn everything he knew about it, especially if there was technology involved with it,” Doug Nowotenski said.

English major Sonya Riley, 23, was a close friend who met Nowotenski in a fall 2013 video class. She said when it came to technology, he completely knew what he was doing when they worked on projects together.

“You could ask anybody that knows him that he’s enthusiastic about everything,” Riley said. “Anything at all.”

Riley said Nowotenski made her freshman year at Sac State enjoyable. He had an effect on her that inspired her to want to do spontaneous things.

Buss said neither him nor the filming crew knew of Russell Nowotenski’s condition, because it was not something he talked about but he was always happy.

“While we have one crew setting up lights and there’d be another crew watching, he would get into conversations and he would always have something funny to say,” Buss said. “I never saw him without a smile on his face. He always had more than enough energy to go around.”

Riley said Russell Nowotenski would make funny jokes that would turn around the boring parts of class their Introduction to Film class, while still paying attention.

“Those who knew him really well knew that he jokes about everything,” Riley said. “It’s really hard to pinpoint a particular joke he said.”

Russell Nowotenski would be upset when things did not go his way, but would soon move on to the next thing, Riley said. He had a love for life and actively participating in what he was doing that she found beautiful, a trait she said more people should have.

“Russell never seemed like he paid attention to the little trivial things,” Riley said. “As my friend, that’s something he really taught me.”

A funeral service was held at East Lawn Mortuary on May 13th at 2 PM.

“He accomplished a lot in his life, he was striving to a lot more and the only thing that restricted him at all was his epilepsy,” Doug Nowotenski said. “He really didn’t let him hold that down too much. I would say he was successful as a man.”