As football fans prepare to fill the stands tonight for this year’s Hearts of Gold campaign, at least one student wants people to know what that support means to those like her who will benefit.
“It means more kids get to feel normal,” said senior Laine Richards. “It means kids will be able to go to a summer camp just for them. It means they will look into new medications with fewer side effects, or even a cure. Or improved monitoring units in hospitals. It is huge. It’s a really big deal, and it’s going to spread a lot of awareness.”
Now in its 10th year, Hearts of Gold this year will benefit the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan.
Laine has lived with epilepsy since elementary school. It is a neurological condition characterized by unprovoked seizures, and affects 1% of Americans, with 1 in 26 people developing it at some point in their lives.
As far back as kindergarten, the seizures Laine suffered looked to others almost like daydreams, she explained, “like blips of time I didn’t even know were happening.” A couple years later, she developed a form of seizure characterized by brief tremors.
Laine’s first grand mal seizure — the type most often depicted, which can be fatal — occurred at home, three days before she began eighth grade.
“I just remember waking up and there being police officers standing around me, and not knowing why,” she recalled. “Pretty scary.”
After a lot of trial and error with medications and missing two weeks of school last year, Laine’s condition is largely managed.
But she has had to give up being on the swimming and rowing teams, she said, and slumber parties are discouraged because lack of sleep has been associated with seizures. She likely will never be able to drive a car.
Despite what she cannot do, Laine is able to do plenty. She has raised more than $20,000 for the state foundation with her event team, has lobbied for epilepsy causes on Capitol Hill, and has met with state and national lawmakers on the issue.
“I can personally attest to the profound impact the foundation has on the lives and families of people like me,” Laine wrote in a letter to the district. “More than anything, the foundation gave my family and me hope at a time when we needed it most.”
Laine’s classmates also were visited today by Dr. David Burdette, an epileptologist at Spectrum Health; and Dr. Seth DeVries, a pediatric epileptologist from Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. They were to provide an overview of epilepsy and its neurobiology, how to spot someone having a seizure and what to do.
Making a Difference
The annual Hearts of Gold campaign is a community-wide effort to raise funds and awareness for a selected non-profit organization, focusing on the physical and mental health of children and teaching students about philanthropy. Funds are raised through sponsorships, school fundraisers, community events and T-shirt sales at district schools and in the community.
Awareness activities and fundraising kicks off in September and culminates with a ceremony — this year on Friday, Oct. 18 at the East Grand Rapids High School home varsity football game.
Since 2009, Hearts of Gold has raised $663,000 for non-profit organizations throughout the state. In 2018, Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County was presented with a Hearts of Gold donation of $82,000.