Fund-raising zeal comes close to home

NEIGHBORS

September 16, 2002|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

KAREN GEISSLER of Ellicott City spent a good deal of her youth going from door to door in her Pennsylvania hometown with a can in her hand, collecting donations for various causes.

"Sometimes I was collecting for cystic fibrosis, sometimes I was collecting for cancer," she said. "I just felt like it was something I could do, and I did it willingly."

She started when she was in elementary school, but her efforts intensified in high school, when her boyfriend's sister died of cystic fibrosis, she said. At the time, she had no way of knowing that cystic fibrosis would play an even larger role in her life.

Years later, she married Cory Geissler and gave birth to a son with cystic fibrosis. Travis, who is now 12, was born three months premature and had to stay in a hospital for 65 days.

"His prematurity masked his cystic fibrosis," Karen said.

The genetic disease was not diagnosed in Travis until he was almost 3. Karen remembers well the day she learned her son had a disease that drastically shortens life expectancy by interfering with breathing and digestion.

"I remember lying on the kitchen floor, crying, surrounded by books," she said. "The books indicated ... he was not going to have a full life. And this child just crawled up to me and put his head on my lap as I lay there sobbing."

Meanwhile, Cory was on the phone to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, learning that there were ways to treat the disease and that the foundation was working toward a cure.

"He hugged me and said, `We're going to be OK,'" Karen recalled. "We started right then with helping with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation."

She estimates that the family has raised more than $150,000 for the foundation, through hop-a-thons, walk-a-thons and other events.

In 1996, the Geisslers started an annual walk-a-thon in Howard County that now attracts about 400 participants each spring. About 50 friends and family members show up for the Travis team, Karen said.

Travis' younger sister, Larissa, a sixth-grader at Bonnie Branch Middle School, also is a zealous fund-raiser, Karen said.

In past years, they have organized an annual concert that raises money for the foundation.

This year's concert, which was held Friday at the Baltimore Arena, featured country music star Alan Jackson.

Travis is in seventh grade at Bonnie Branch. "You'd look at this child and have no clue that he has anything going on," Karen said.

Travis is on a swim team, ice skates, inline skates and is involved with Scouts and a church youth group. He hopes to be a chef some day.

In order to stay healthy, Travis takes a medicine cabinet's worth of pills.

He also wears a special vest for a half-hour each morning and night that breaks up mucus in his lungs that can lead to infection.

Karen said it's important for her peace of mind to keep active in fighting the disease.

"For me to stay positive, I have to know I'm doing everything I can possibly do," she said.

Information: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation national office, 800-FIGHTCF; local office, 410-771-9000; or www.cff.org.

Bingo and lunch

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8097 on Montevideo Road will sponsor an afternoon of bingo and lunch Sept. 29. Lunch will start at noon and bingo will begin at 1:30 p.m. A cake sale will be featured.

Information: 410-799-0343.

`Li'l Abner' on stage

Adults from the Baltimore and Washington region are invited to audition for roles in the Centennial High School production of Li'l Abner.

The play will be put on by the Centennial Players, a group formed five years ago to bring students and adults together in theatrical productions. Student roles will be played by high-schoolers.

All adult roles are open. Auditions for adults will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the high school, 4300 Centennial Lane, Ellicott City.

For the auditions, bring a prepared song and expect to read from the script. An accompanist and a tape player will be provided.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, 15 and 16.

Information: Mo Dutterer, 410-997-4896.

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