Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fighting Epilepsy can have successful results

After spending most of her life being told to keep quiet about her late brother's seizure disorder, Michelle Henderson, founder of the Robert O. Henderson, Sr. Epilepsy Foundation, is now making some big noise. Not only was her fledgling foundation's first memorial walk a striking success, she has also set plans in motion for an epilepsy awareness and support group for this September.

Henderson was initially worried that the foundation's first memorial walk, which was held this past Oct. 22, would have little attendance. However, her fears were quickly diminished that Sunday as 138 participants showed up, including students from Swenson Skills Center, Lincoln High School, Jenkintown High School, and Archbishop Ryan High School.

"For its first time, 138 people was a great turnout, especially for a local foundation like us," Henderson said of the walk, which was held at Industrial Park at Red Lion and Academy Roads.

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological condition characterized by periodic seizures, ranging from small jerky petit mal seizures in the hands or face muscles while the individual is conscious to the violent grand mal seizures that involve strong shaking over the entire body while the individual is unconscious. According to the World Health Organization, over 50 million people in the world today suffer from epilepsy.

Henderson's brother Robert was one of those people. Robert was forced to keep his condition secret his entire life due to the stigma it carried. On Oct. 8, 1993, he died after a particularly violent seizure which caused him to flip out of his bed and receive a cervical fracture.

After her brother's death, Henderson became a vocal proponent of epilepsy awareness, education, and research.

"The walk, I think, was more successful than I had ever hoped for." She added. "I was thrilled and honored that so many came to participate."

On Monday, Feb. 19, Henderson presented the proceeds from her foundation's first walk to the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pa. The money will help fund a scholarship for an epileptic child interested in attending the Epilepsy Foundation's Camp Achieve.

"We're always very happy to receive contributions," said Jeanette K. Chelius, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pa. "This will allow another camper to learn more about and better understand this disorder. Many of these children have never slept over at a place other than their own home. So this is an extraordinary experience for these kids."

"We're thrilled to fulfill our promise to our walkers," Henderson added. This year's memorial walk will be on Oct. 21 at the same location-Industrial Park.

"This year our efforts are going to go to Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE), an organization that is dedicated to research," Henderson said.

CURE is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to raise funds for research toward a cure for epilepsy. The organization also works to raise awareness and educate the general population about the realities of this highly prevalent seizure disorder.

Henderson will also being holding an epilepsy awareness and support group on the second Monday of every month beginning on Sept. 10 at Frankford-Torresdale Hospital.

"It is for those with epilepsy, their family, and all interested in learning more about epilepsy," Henderson explained. "It's a way to raise awareness and give support to all of these different types of people."

Henderson said that the support group will include appearances from various speakers knowledgeable in epilepsy, whether they are doctors or activists.

Despite these initial successes, Henderson said her foundation is still in need of some essential resources.

"We'd like to get some used laptops from businesses in the area that would like to donate them," Henderson said. "We want to use these computers as a way to help educate people more about epilepsy during our various events, such as the support group."

For those interested in contributing used laptops or a financial donation to the Robert O. Henderson, Sr. Epilepsy Foundation, please contact Michelle Henderson at (215) 637-5370. For more information on the foundation in general, please visit http://mysite.verizon.net/vzetjfur/index.html.


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