Sarah Thompson anxiously hugged her 4-year-old son, Bryson. The California mom of four had watched helplessly as he struggled with refractory epilepsy, which caused him to fall down and convulse with up to 100 seizures a day.
“Can’t you help him?” she desperately asked doctors during her son’s hospital visits. But after getting no definitive answers, Sarah had to find ways to help her son manage the seizures on her own.
When one of her son’s seizures came on, Sarah began trying to coax the boy out of it with gentle words of encouragement. “You gotta come back,” she said one day. “We’ll find a Saints game to watch.”
To her delight, with the mention of his favorite football team, Bryson came to. “Did football do that?” she wondered.
After all, football was her family’s passion: Her father was formerly an NFL player for the Saints, and her husband was a football coach at California Polytechnic State University.
When another seizure came, she tried the same tactic — and again, Bryson came to. “It’s a miracle!” Sarah said to her husband, Aristotle.
But as Bryson’s seizures continued to worsen, doctors advised getting a special helmet to protect his head. Little did she know that getting her son that helmet would trigger many more miracles to come.
An Inspired Idea
“They won’t cover the cost of his helmet,” Sarah sighed after weeks of trying to negotiate with the family’s insurance company. “Without their help, we really can’t afford all of this. There has to be some other way.”
Luckily, the Thompsons were involved with a community nonprofit called Jack’s Helping Hand, which assists children with medical needs.
“We’ll buy the helmet for you,” the director of the organization assured. And when they also offered to pay for Bryson’s transportation to his doctor’s office, Sarah wanted to pay it forward.
“I want us to help others, but how?” she asked her kids one afternoon.
Suddenly, Bryson’s eyes widened. “What if we make our own foundation?” he asked.
“Yeah!” his older brother, Brock, agreed. “We’ll collect sports stuff, sell it and donate the money to Jack’s Helping Hand.”
Sarah’s heart swelled to see her boys’ excitement, and she took a video of them asking for help collecting memorabilia and sent it out to all of her sports contacts.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” Bryson began in the recording. “I’m trying to raise money for a foundation that gives me everything I need.”
“Can you help us by getting autographs from your team on a football, helmet or jersey?” Brock added, before ending with a “Thank you!” As donations poured in, from football memorabilia to basketballs, boxing gloves and even instruments from the band, Little Big Town, the family knew they were on to something — and weeks later, their Helmets4Helmets nonprofit was born.
The Power of Giving Back
Today, four years from the start of Helmets4Helmets, the boys have donated more than $50,000 worth of helmets to Jack’s Helping Hand, and have auctioned off more $75,000 worth of memorabilia to buy medical helmets for children across the country and Canada.
Bryson, now 8, still wears his trusty helmet, and thanks to his mission to help others and a treatment called VNS Therapy, his number of seizures has dropped from 100 a day to just one.
“It’s incredible how much his work with Helmets4Helmets has helped him,” Sarah says. “As a mom watching her sons —one of whom is in the fight of a lifetime — work to help others, I feel so proud. It shows that the smallest acts of kindness can transform lives!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.