In 2005, when Kelsey Harrington was 10 years old, she was experiencing up to 1,000 seizures a day. Whatever was afflicting her since she was 10 months old remained undiagnosed, and she continued to “struggle,” mother Diane Harrington said.
Then, her maternal grandfather, who was elderly but in fair health, unexpectedly died. And just one week later, to the day, Kelsey Harrington passed as well.
“Her seizures were unbelievable,” Diane Harrington said. “When you put your hand on her, you would feel like a current going through her. When she passed away and you touched her, it was calm. It was calm.”
After her father died, Diane Harrington told Kelsey it was finally "time to stop struggling.” But the 10-year-old's memory is far from being buried, as Diane and husband Tom Harrington have spent the last seven years raising money for special needs children and for people who work in special education through the Kelsey Harrington Foundation.
In the past seven years, the foundation has raised thousands of dollars in scholarships for students who overcame special needs or another tragedy or students who are going into the field of special education. The group has also raised money to make certain places for children more handicapped-accessible, such as the
“I love sending checks with her name on it,” Diane Harrington said. “I mean I’m writing it, and I love sending checks with her name on it. It just makes me feel very warm, it is so Kelsey to sign a check with her name on it.”
Kelsey Harrington was born in 1995 perfectly healthy, and actually began to walk and talk at an early age, Diane Harrington said. Then when she was 10 months old, she had a seizure, and from that day forward “was pretty much never seizure-free again,” Harrington said.
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After a few years, she lost all ability to talk and was in a wheelchair. The caring for Kelsey Harrington was non-stop, as just an example the couple would have to wake up twice a night to give her medication, father Tom Harrington said.
“There was no break,” Tom Harrington said. “Unless you live it, you really don’t understand what you go through.”
Still, the Harringtons did everything they could to bring Kelsey to as many places as possible. She went to school, she went to her younger brother Colin’s baseball games, she even got an autographed baseball from Derek Jeter.
“Everybody (in the community) knew her,” Tom Harrington said. “She went to everything.”
Then one day when she was 10, she died. And all of a sudden, not only was their child gone, but so was the Harrington's lifestyle for the last decade.
“The care she got 24-7 was part of our life,” Tom Harrington said. “Once that stopped, it was like part of us was taken away. What do you do?”
What they did was start the Kelsey Harrington Foundation. At their first fundraiser in 2006, more than 600 people showed up, and it has continued ever since.
At first the effort was part of Waterford’s Cactus Jack Foundation. But soon the couple, along with many other caring parents, broke off and formed the separate Kelsey Harrington Foundation, an incorporated non-profit organization.
They originally raised money just for the scholarships, but then more money came in then expected, Diane Harrington said. So they began to raise money for other things, like to make the children’s museum in Niantic handicapped-accessible, she said.
They also raised money for students at Camp Harkness, for a section at the Waterford Public Library with books for special needs children and much more. But also, the foundation is to increase awareness, so parents know that other parents are going through the same thing and the community can help, Diane Harrington said.
For example, Diane Harrington said she once brought her son, Colin, and Kelsey, who was in her wheelchair, to an event at Great Neck Elementary School. At the event, there were fire truck rides and Colin wanted to go on one, but Diane Harrington didn’t know what to do with Kelsey.
She could have just asked one of the other mothers to watch her child, “but I would never ask,” she said. Finally, one mother offered to watch Kelsey while she took Colin onto the fire truck ride.
Just little things like that, like knowing it is okay to ask, is what this foundation can provide, Diane Harrington said. It also can provide some practical information from other moms going through it, like the best therapist to go to, she said.
“That’s where the passion for this comes from,” Diane Harrington said. “When you have a special needs kid, it’s a very lonely world that nobody can appreciate. It is very worrisome, you worry about her. You worry about Colin. You worry and you’re tired. People don’t realize it continues. When people get sick, they get better. They don’t realize it continues. And sometimes they stop asking… And that is what drives me to do this. Because people that are going through it, it’s nice to ask.”
How You Can Help
The foundation is having a fundraiser called Fundraising Fiesta this Friday in New London, featuring a comedian. For more information, as all proceeds go to the Kelsey Harrington Foundation. Tickets are $25 per person.