Thursday, April 24, 2003
Help from friends
Kathy Freedlund, playing with Luke Branson at his Batavia home, helped raise money for Luke and his twin brother, who need hyperbaric treatments, Story, Page 7
Generous hearts keep giving to twins
through thick and thin raise $35,000 to help pay for kids' hyperbaric
By Denise Linke
Special to the Tribune
Scott and Kerri Branson appreciate the $35,000 their friends and neighbors raised for them during a recent Branson Project fundraiser. The money will cover two years worth of hyperbaric treatments for the Batavia couple's 5-year-old twin sons, Luke and Zachary, who were diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy when they were 9 months old.
"It's truly wonderful. We weren't expecting a lot because the economy is so down," Kerri Branson said. "People are losing their jobs and their retirement funds, so it's amazing how generous they're still being."
But what really touches the Bransons' hearts is the continuous outpouring of help and encouragement they've received from the community since Luke and Zach were diagnosed. A similar fundraiser raised $45,000 two years ago.
"Our friends, family and neighbors have been really great," Scott said. "They've given a lot of time to help us cope with the day-to- day stuff."
Even as toddlers, Luke and Zach couldn't sit upright, let alone walk. They couldn't swallow, vomited several times a day and had trouble falling asleep.
An exhaustive Internet search for alternate treatments led the Bransons to hyperbaric therapy, commonly used to treat deep-sea divers with the bends.
Patients in hyperbaric therapy spend one or two hours in a chamber filled with pressurized oxygen to stimulate unused sections of the brain."
At first I thought it was a scam," Kerri Branson said. "But it kept popping up in my Internet searches, So we decided to give it a try. Within 12 treatments, the boys were eating bites of pizza and keeping them down."
Two years and several hyperbaric treatments later, Luke and Zach can sit up, take some food by mouth, play with toys adapted for the disabled and respond to verbal directions. They attend school, go horseback riding with aides and swing in their back yard.
"They would never have come this far without hyperbaric therapy,"
Kerri Branson said. "Their cognitive gains and strength improvements have gone far beyond what we'd hoped for. I want to keep doing this as long as they continue to improve."
But those improvements did not come cheaply. The treatments, which cost $150 per child, are available only in coastal areas, which
means the Bransons have to live in a hotel for the three weeks it takes to go through each course of therapy.
Even after persuading their health insurer to pay the medical bills and getting free plane trips for the twins and themselves through the charity Miracle Flights, Scott and Kerri Branson must get their other two children to and from Naples, Fla., and pay everyday expenses. Their out-of-pocket total during a typical treatment
often reaches $8,000 or more, they said. Scott's salary as a teacher and coach couldn't stretch to cover the three therapy courses the boys need each year, especially since Kerri gave up her modeling career to care for them full time.
That's when neighbor Kathy Freedlund got the idea of hosting a fundraiser.
"I was trying to think of something that was different than a dinner or a bake sale," she said. "Then I went to a Battle of the Bands event to hear my son's band play, and it hit me that if we could get several bands to provide continuous music, we could collect the same cover charge that event did."
Carnival games, a silent auction and some big-ticket prizes helped bring more than 700 residents to each of the two fundraisers.
Though the fundraisers succeeded "beyond our wildest fantasies," Freedlund said, the Bransons and their friends haven't stopped there. A Web site, www.thebransonproject.com, offers Branson-logo sportswear for sale as well as asking for volunteers to help take care of the twins.
It also provides detailed information on hyperbaric therapy, along with advice to other parents of cerebral palsy patients on how to get insurance companies to pay for the treatments. "What's nice about it is that we can help other people in the same situation find help," Freedlund said. "This has been such a blessing for the boys, we can't help but want to share it."
For questions or comments e-mail:
*this website was designed and is maintained by Luke & Zach's, mom, Kerri Branson.