WEST HARTFORD — If there’s one thing six-year-old Landon Heilbrunn wants to see this October, it’s purple pumpkins.
Landon, a first grade student at Norfeldt Elementary, has epilepsy and is participating in the Epilepsy Foundation’s purple pumpkin project, which encourages people to paint their pumpkins purple in support of the foundation, while also making donations to the foundation to further its research.
His mom, Alexandra Heilbrunn, said Landon is just like any other young boy of his age, and wants to erase any stigmas that might be attached to children with epilepsy.
Landon loves soccer, tennis and skiing, enjoys playing outside with his brother and sister, has a fascination with airplanes and is curious about the way things work.
But he also has been dealing with epilepsy nearly his entire life, with his first seizure coming at 10 months. He’s not yet been able to go one full year without a seizure, his mom said, which is a goal for children with epilepsy.
“It’s more than just seizures,” explains Heilbrunn. “There can be learning delays, anxiety, emotional social stuff. It can be the conversations about hospitalizations and testing. It’s so much more than just what people’s perception of a seizure is.”
Landon said he’s already been excited to see purple pumpkins pop up in his neighborhood, showing a sign of support for his fundraiser. And he’s likely to see more than that, with Moscarillo's Garden Shoppe of West Hartford committing to donating pumpkins to his entire first grade class at Norfeldt. He already raised more than $1,000 before the calendar officially switched over to October.
“It’s been really inspiring just how generous people have been,” Heilbrunn said. “We have neighbors that are donating. I’ve been getting pictures daily of people having their kids paint pumpkins. Just painting a pumpkin purple helps the conversation. We want to make sure everyone knows how meaningful this is to us.”
Whenever Landon does see a purple pumpkin, he feels happy, and on Halloween night while he’s trick-or-treating as a spooky skeleton, he’s ready to give whoever has a purple pumpkin a big high five.
Heilbrunn explains that Landon is finally reaching a age where he’s beginning to understand epilepsy more. To help him more, they call his medicine “superhero medicine.”
“We’ve never been silent about Landon’s diagnosis,” Heilbrunn said. “This has been a journey for sure. We also don’t lead with it, because he’s normalized. He’s a normal kid. But people also don’t know all the stuff that is happening with him.”
As parents, Heilbrunn said she and her husband were scared when their son had his first seizure before he even turned one.
“The first time he had a seizure was obviously terrifying for his dad and I,” Heilbrunn said. “He was hospitalized...and they were trying to figure out what was going on. A child can have one and never have another one. But for Landon, his journey has been that we’re at the low 20s in the number of seizures he’s had in his life.”
Heilbrunn said the Epilepsy Foundation also does a lot for seizure education, which is a conversation Landon’s parents have to have with his teachers and school officials every year, in case he has one while in school.
“That’s equally important so people know what to do when people have a seizure, because people can have many different kinds of seizures,” Heilbrunn said. “We have to have pre-start of school phone calls with his teacher every year. He has a seizure action plan at school and he takes daily medication twice a day. We have to stay on top of that. We want him to have as normalized of a school day as possible.”
Through all that, though, Landon is able to live a normal life. He’s a member of the Red Ninjas town league soccer team, and even scored a goal at a recent game.
“Because we’ve been telling his story, people have a better understanding of him and what his journey has been,” Heilbrunn said.
Ideally, Landon would see a purple pumpkin on the steps of every house he collects candy from on Halloween.
“We can do this,” Heilbrunn said. “We can get purple pumpkins out there. We just need to tell more people.”
“I want to see pumpkins all around,” Landon said.