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Son's epilepsy diagnosis spurs Minn. family's donation challenge

Brandi and Eli Larson pose with just a few of the donations that will be going to children at the St. Paul's Children's Hospital as part of Eli's Epilepsy Project. Special to Forum News Service

PEQUOT LAKES, Minn.—Inspired by the care given to their son, a Pequot Lakes family is collecting donations for children in need.

In May of last year when the Brandi and Ryan Larson family was at a race track, then 3-year-old Eli Larson had a health issue.

"He just kind of started having seizures, and we didn't know why," Brandi said. "It kind of hit with a bang. At first we thought it was a heat stroke when it got really hot."

The condition, which started with one seizure, soon turned into several daily and then more yet.

"It got really bad to the point we were at the hospital, and we were having to stay at (St. Paul Children's Hospital) for a week at a time because he was having hundreds of seizures a day," Brandi said, noting it was determined her son had epilepsy.

While the hospital was determining the proper medication and doses to bring Eli's epilepsy under control, there was a silver lining.

"I watched him go through it and saw how wonderful they are there," Brandi said. "All the things they do for the kids and everything they've done for him. They did so much for him, I felt like I needed to give back to those kids and help in any way I could. They helped him so much, and without them I don't think he would be remotely where he is."

The family watched the staff at the hospital comfort their child and teach him to take his medicines by whatever means necessary. They experienced firsthand how frightening the experience was and were thankful for the little things the staff did to comfort the scared parents and children.

With Eli being seizure-free for several months, the Larsons started to gather donations at the end of January to help the hospital help those in need. They named it Eli's Epilepsy Project.

"(We gathered) anything that would have made him feel better, is basically what I based it on," Brandi said. "Anything to keep them occupied and smiling a little bit so they don't get so overwhelmed and stressed out. Something that makes them think someone is thinking of them."

The goal was to fill backpacks with comforting items for the children on the hospital's neurology floor. Each backpack to be donated includes a stuffed animal, a coloring book and crayons, small toys and a tied fleece blanket. Brandi is accepting donations of these specific items, but also monetary donations to help fill the bags evenly.

"A lot of people don't seem to know what to do for fleece, so they give coloring books and color crayons," Brandi said. "We get a lot more donations of coloring books and color crayons and some stuffed animals, and then the rest of it has been almost 50/50 with cash."

Brandi said they have collected more than 60 bags already.

"I'm hoping to do it a few times," Brandi said. "I would really like to not have to ever quit if I can. I'm really hoping to make 100 before I go the first time. I don't have a deadline, but I'm going to keep going until reach my first goal."

Brandi hopes the bags help parents and hospital staff, as well as the children at the hospital.

"Not just the kids, even, but their parents," Brandi said. "I know how Ryan and I felt when we were down there and how scary it was. You didn't know what was going to happen from day to day or if it was going to get better. It is something for all of them."

In addition to gathering donations, Brandi hopes Eli's Epilepsy Project will increase epilepsy awareness.

"Besides giving to the kids, I'm just trying to spread some awareness about epilepsy," Brandi said. "Every kid who has epilepsy is not necessarily disabled. You can go from having a normal life to all of a sudden having something different. I just want people to know a little more about epilepsy and what happens."

Brandi and her family will participate in this year's Good Samaritan Bowl in honor of the project where they will also hold a silent auction table. Donations can be arranged through Eli's Epilepsy Project on Facebook. The family is also looking for volunteers willing to donate time to tying fleece blankets.

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