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Epilepsy victim’s courage inspires family to help others

Bobby Becker would hate that you’re reading about him right now.

The 26-year-old did not make a big deal out of having epilepsy, and while his friends could always count on him, he didn’t like to be the center of attention.

Bobby’s parents, Denise Fenton and Bobby Becker, acknowledge that, but they also know their son would want to help others, and they and their friends have organized a golf tournament in his memory to raise money for the Epilepsy Association of Western New York. The tournament and lunch will take place Oct. 7 at Brierwood Country Club, just over two months after Becker collapsed and died in his mother’s Hamburg home.

“I think you have to find a positive in a negative in order to go forward a little,” Fenton said. “It’s tough. Every day I have a breakdown. When I do start crying, I can just picture Bobby saying, ‘Mom what are you doing,’ because he wouldn’t have wanted that.”

Becker, who shares his son’s name, said the busier they are at this time, the better.

“Knowing that through such a tragedy you’re going to be able to help other people, helps a lot as well,” he said. “There’s not one second that’s going to go by that we don’t think about the tragedy or the loss, but we move ahead by doing things like this to help other people.”

Bobby Becker, a 2005 graduate of Hamburg Central High School, where he played on the golf team, also leaves behind his brother, Brian, 23, and two sisters, Sara and Melissa, both 17, and his stepfather, Randy Fenton.

Bobby suffered his first epileptic seizure when he was 17 and working as a clerk at a department store in McKinley Mall. Doctors discovered a benign tumor on his brain, and it was removed when he was attending Canisius College.

But he continued having about two seizures a year.

Bobby was working as a dock manager at Conway Freight in Syracuse and came back to Hamburg for his mother’s birthday last month.

Fenton and her husband, Randy, operate Main Street Ice Cream in Hamburg. She and her son were planning to go to lunch with her parents on her birthday, Aug. 2.

“We heard him up in the shower about noon,” she recalled. “Around 12:30 I called up to say ‘Are you ready to go?’ and he never answered.”

Paramedics were unable to revive him. After talking to his doctor, his parents now believe Bobby died from Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy. A seizure can cause a person to stop breathing briefly, may cause a dangerous heart rhythm or may suppress the function of vital parts of the brain, resulting in death, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

But there is some promising research being done to create a warning system when someone has a seizure, which might have helped their son. Some of the money raised from the golf tournament will go toward research, while part of it also will be dedicated to education and helping people with epilepsy. The family hopes to raise $20,000 through the tournament and set up a separate fund through the association.

The chronic neurological disorder involves abnormal electrical activity in the brain that causes seizures. About 2.5 million people in the United States are affected by the condition.

When Bobby was in college, he had a seizure while walking back to his dorm. He was found passed out on the street and taken to the hospital. It was assumed that he was drunk because he could not stand, was acting confused, foaming and bleeding from his mouth from biting his tongue, his parents said.

When they got to the hospital, he was chained to the bed because he had panicked and tried to leave.

They are hoping that through education, more people will become aware of epilepsy and its symptoms, and what steps to take if someone has a seizure.

That’s something Bobby would appreciate.

“I think he just wanted no one to treat him special. He never wanted to be treated differently. You would never know that he was epileptic,” Fenton said. “Never, ever a day of his life did he ever feel sorry for himself. He just dealt with it.”