Charity keeps eye on young patients' quality of life

NEIGHBORS

September 04, 2001|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JOYCE HLASS says that her son, Charlie, had a positive influence on many people during his 21 years of life. One year after Charlie's death from leukemia, Hlass is working to continue her son's legacy of brightening other people's lives through a foundation she started in his memory, Through Charlie's Eyes.

The foundation was set up during the spring to raise money for enhancing the quality of life for patients ages 18-30 undergoing bone marrow and stem cell transplants. During Charlie's 16-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia, he underwent four stem cell transplants from his younger sister, Jennifer, now a junior at Towson University.

"We were thankful that out of one sibling, we had a perfect match," said Hlass, a resource teacher for the Howard County public schools' Office of Special Education.

Throughout the ordeal, Charlie maintained his sense of humor, often entertaining hospital staff and visitors with his wit. "Humor was a big part of fighting this disease," Hlass said.

He fashioned a Groucho Marx-style face on the pole holding his intravenous fluids. "The IV made him crazy. Charlie named him `Bob' as a joke," she said. For exercise, Charlie would often walk the hospital corridors, with Bob in tow.

Maintaining a positive attitude was no joke to Charlie, an avid soccer player who graduated from Howard High School in 1997. He believed that keeping his spirits high and his body fit were key factors in fighting leukemia, said Hlass, a Thunder Hill resident.

Friends and family provided him with an abundance of activities and games to keep his mind occupied during his hospitalizations. Dick's Sporting Goods, where Charlie worked, donated a set of weights so he could work out. But the outpouring of support made Charlie realize that many patients his age are not so lucky.

"There is so much out there for pediatrics," Hlass said. But Charlie felt that the young adult patient population was being overlooked.

Hlass addresses her son's concerns through the foundation. With support from the Ulman Cancer Fund and The University of Maryland Medical Center, Through Charlie's Eyes is raising money to build a fitness room in the UMMC transplant unit, where Charlie passed away one year ago tomorrow. The room, possibly the first of its kind, will be furnished with specialized exercise equipment and an air-filtering system to allow patients to exercise without the protective masks they would normally have to wear.

Next to the exercise room, Hlass plans a game room full of laptop computers, electronic games and videos. She also hopes to provide electronic games and computers to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Hlass believes Charlie would be pleased with her efforts. "We're on the cutting edge of quality of life," she said. "It really is through his eyes."

Three events at Howard High School will kick off the fund raising. A "Kicking Cancer" soccer tournament will start at 8 a.m. Sept. 15. A wheel chair race will start at 8:30 a.m. the next day; it is to be followed, at 9 a.m., by a 5K run/walk.

Information or registration: 410-884-9255, or send e-mail to throughcharlieseyes@home.com.

Owen Brown brightens up

A ribbon-cutting ceremony at Owen Brown Middle School on Thursday celebrated the 25-year-old school's recent renovation.

"We're getting, in many respects, a brand new building," remarked PTA President Bob Grandfield, whose son, Jim, is a sixth-grader at the school.

The renovation included "new lighting, new technology. This was a total renovation of all the space below the ceiling," said Tom Kierzkowski, director of school facilities for Howard County Public Schools.

Perhaps the most striking change is the new configuration of the classrooms. Walls now make classrooms self-contained, and windows have been added to let in the sunshine.

"It's so important to have that sunlight," said Principal Linda Carter. "The kids have a more positive attitude toward school."

Eighth-graders Samad James, Krystle Larkins and Matt Heaps, and seventh-grader Kelly Canales, held blue ribbons across the entrance to the renovated portion of the building while Assistant Principal Ernesto Diaz led the rest of the pupils in a countdown over the new public address system. On cue, the ribbon was snipped by Carter, Howard Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, Dasher Green Elementary Principal Sue Goglia, Grandfield and Kierzkowski.

What's next for the school? "We're trying to get some donations of wood so the `tech ed' kids can build picnic tables," Grandfield said.

Parting words

Rebecca Bafford, director of Columbia Art Center, majored in art and English in college, then earned a master's degree in fine arts. But her college career began quite differently.

"I started as a biology major because I love animals," said Bafford, 33. "I wanted to be a veterinarian."

Although she switched her allegiance from biology to art, she still has a passion for animals.

"Every time I go to the humane society, I get another [pet] rabbit. Finally, I stopped going there!" she said.

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