The Purple Pumpkin Project: Celebrating the Season While Raising Epilepsy Awareness
By Whitney Stohr
I love the month of October. It is, by far, my favorite month of the year. I love the changing colors of the trees, the crunching leaves underfoot, the crispness of the morning air, and the feeling of a thick, comfy sweater.
In October, I excitedly embrace all things pumpkin. I am *that* person, and I would proudly wear a pumpkin-loving badge of honor. (Shout out to all my fellow pumpkin-loving peers out there!)
Naturally, for my family, October means a trip to a local pumpkin patch, pumpkin pies, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin soups…
Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins…
Most of them orange;
But, one of them, always, purple.
My three-year-old son Malachi has epilepsy. He was diagnosed with the condition two years ago, and it has proven the most challenging of diagnoses. It is incredibly scary to watch someone you love experience a massive seizure, and, for many people, epilepsy is difficult to control. It is ever-present and threatening.
In the United States, over 3.4 million people live with epilepsy. Epilepsy is diagnosed when an individual experiences two or more unprovoked seizures separated by at least 24 hours; or, after one seizure where there is a high-risk of future occurrence. About 1 in every 26 people in the United States will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives. It is much more common than most people believe.
For six out of every 10 people with the condition, the cause of their epilepsy is unknown. One-third of people with epilepsy live with uncontrolled seizures because the medications currently available to prevent seizures do not work for them.
Epilepsy can also be dangerous. For people with epilepsy, their overall risk of dying if 1.6 to 3 times higher than the general population. In some cases, epilepsy itself can cause death. (Learn more at epilepsy.com.)
For these reasons, it is critical to raise awareness about the impact of epilepsy and to support advanced medical research and programs to develop new and better treatment options.
This is where the purple pumpkins come in…
The Purple Pumpkin Project is an annual, awareness-raising campaign of the national Epilepsy Foundation.
The Purple Pumpkin Project was founded in 2012 by Ron Lamontagne, the father of a child with epilepsy, as a way to spark conversation with others about the impact of epilepsy for his son and their family. Ron created a Facebook page about his idea, which quickly expanded, reaching all 50 states within just two days. Today, these purple pumpkins provide an opportunity to engage others in conversation whenever they ask: “Why is your pumpkin purple?”
To participate in the Purple Pumpkin Project, families simply paint a pumpkin PURPLE. Any shade of purple will do! Then, they can use their pumpkin to raise awareness or engage in fundraising efforts to support the Epilepsy Foundation. Some groups hold purple pumpkin decorating parties; others host unique, pumpkin themed events. The Epilepsy Foundation offers people a platform to create a personal fundraising page, where they can post photos of their purple pumpkins and share their stories. The ultimate goal: To END EPILEPSY.
For my family, ending epilepsy is a dream. We hope that, one day soon, epilepsy related seizures will be entirely preventable. We hold hope for new treatment options and continued advancement in our understanding and knowledge of this condition. We hope for these things for Malachi, and for everyone out there touched by epilepsy.
Until that day arrives, every year in October, we will continue to paint our pumpkins various shades of PURPLE.
Whitney Stohr is a Parent to Parent Coordinator at The Arc of Snohomish County. She is passionate about advocating for medically complex children and children with disabilities, and their families. She is a mom and medical caregiver herself, who is energized by working closely with other parent/family caregivers. She lives with her three-year-old son Malachi and husband Jason in Lynnwood, WA. (Article originally published in October 2021.)