Drake Abramson described himself as a kind of painter when talking about living with complex partial seizures, a form of epilepsy.
“I was depressed for a while, but one day (after being diagnosed), I was like, ‘What I am doing? Why am I getting so down on myself?’” Abramson said, breaking into a wide grin. “I’m my own painter, so let me paint everyone an image of myself. I grabbed my paintbrush, and I just started painting away.”
Along with epilepsy, the “colors” on the tall, popular Lake Station Edison sophomore’s palette include being a high school wrestler, trombone player in band and, more and more, a fundraiser able to draw the attention of U.S. congressmen and senators, mayors and the governors of Indiana and Illinois.
“I’m just like everyone else,” Abramson said, pointing to a purple display board listing the results of his fundraisers. “I face this challenge, but I’m still trying my best to achieve more.”
Abramson said he wants politicians to allot more money for epilepsy awareness and research, and he soon will meet with Indiana Supt. of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz aiming to make epilepsy awareness part of public schools’ curricula, he said.
“We want teachers and educational staff to undergo training to recognize and help people undergoing seizures, and we want epilepsy and seizure education in the classrooms,” said Jill Abramson, Drake’s mother, a zealous advocate for her son. “Then the stigmas and misperceptions will start to dissolve.”
The middle of five children, Abramson was diagnosed with complex partial seizures in November 2011, shortly after a mishap during a freshman football game, when he walked into the opposing team’s huddle. His coach thought Abramson had suffered a concussion, while his teammates tried to make sense of the moment.
It was a critical moment that led to the diagnosis, said Abramson, flanked by his mom, both wearing deep purple T-shirts with a purple ribbon design.
Purple has become the color of epilepsy awareness, just as pink is associated with breast cancer research, Jill Abramson said.
The seizures at first sparked a crisis of conscience in his mom, she said.
“I always would think, ‘My God, I didn’t eat the best, or I drank too much pop when I was pregnant with him,’” Jill Abramson said. “As a parent, you think, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ Drake was always clumsy as a kid, but now all I want to do is keep him safe and help him succeed.”
Other kids at school did not take well to the blank stares and out-of-mind moments that come with complex partial seizures, the Abramsons said, but the young Abramson had to choose between wallowing in fear and sorrow or doing something to get people to understand epilepsy, he said.
Thus began an epilepsy awareness and fundraising campaign. Along with school administrators, such as then-Assistant Principal Angela Ruiz, now heading River Forest High School, the Abramsons launched simple activities, such as schoolwide discussions about the disease and students paying small amounts of money to wear clothes that did not fit the school’s dress code or buying balloons for a massive purple balloon launch.
Awareness programs grew rapidly in the Edison hallways, Ruiz said. Junior high and high schools began asking for more information, and understanding grew.
“It just became something that grew and morphed out of one of our own struggling with something,” she said. “(Drake) is a magnificent kid.”
The idea is to get people to understand epilepsy, Drake Abramson said. Other students who may blank out during class can draw a teacher’s ire, but there may be deeper issues, he said.
Drake Abramson cannot drive or walk freely to his friends’ houses like other 16-year-olds can, but there probably are not many other teens who have influenced legislators and governors, he said.
“This is about showing people you can follow your dreams, and you can still achieve things if you put your mind on track,” he said.