May 5, 2010

Going to bat for a teammate

During basketball practice several months ago, James FitzGerald got the biggest scare of his life. The then-11-year-old Potomac resident and student at Olney's Washington Christian Academy collapsed on the gym floor during sprints, frothing at the mouth and enduring extreme muscle contractions. His face turned blue. He was in the middle of a grand mal seizure caused by epilepsy, which disrupts electrical functions in the brain. James, now 12, did not know he had the condition. During a follow-up test three days later, he suffered another one. His parents were horrified. But these days, thanks to a different sport, he and several friends are helping others with epilepsy.

James and members of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Bombers, a baseball team of 12-year-old players, are augmenting their fundraising efforts for a trip to a tournament, by asking for donations to the Epilepsy Foundation, which provides information for those living with the condition and support for epilepsy research. Half the money raised goes to the team, half to the foundation. The team has raised about $6,000 and has an initial goal of $10,000, with about 25 games left in the fundraising drive.

"His teammates with baseball couldn't have been more supportive," said James' mother, Charlotte FitzGerald.

The team is composed of 11 friends from the county and Washington, D.C. When they heard about James' condition, they knew little about epilepsy.

"I didn't know if he could come back and play for us," said Ryan Murray, of Potomac, a middle-infielder and pitcher for the Bombers.

Paris Inman, the father of another teammate, Asher Inman of Washington, D.C., had sold accounting software to the Epilepsy Foundation and helped them with previous fundraisers. When he heard about James' situation, he suggested to the team that they should start their own fundraiser to help their friend.

"That kind of motivated us to win and get better for a different cause," James FitzGerald said.

Ryan and teammates learned that other friends and family members are among the more than 3 million people in the U.S. have epilepsy, according to the foundation. Donors can contribute for each Bombers win and a rival team has agreed to tie their success to helping the Bombers. Evan Pettyjohn, a player on the Maryland Predators in Frederick, who played on the Bombers last year, has agreed to donate $5 for every Predators win, and $6 (James' uniform number) for every time Evan hits a home run. Evan is asking family and friends to match his donations. James takes medication, although he hasn't had a seizure since December. The lights of night games haven't bothered him, but James said he has to watch out for dehydration and exhaustion. SOURCE: Gazette
PICTURE: Brian Lewis/The Gazette
Players on the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Bombers, Ethan Kohn, 12, of Washington, D.C.; Matt Mervis, 12, of Potomac; James FitzGerald,12, of Potomac; and Asher Inman, 12, of Washington, D.C. The team is raising money to donate to the Epilepsy Foundation in honor of James, who was recently diagnosed with the condition.

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