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HOMETOWN HEROES: Family of 9-year-old boy who lives with epilepsy come together as one

Standing near an open kitchen cupboard, Ryan Erickson, 9, pointed to an upper shelf, asking for a Pop-Tart. It's a simple act most parents would hardly notice, but for Julie Erickson, it's proof that her son is getting better in the wake of a ser...

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Ryan Erickson, 9, sits with his family Wednesday afternoon at their home in Grand Forks. He is joined on the couch surrounded by his parents RJ and Julie, older brother Justin, 14, (left) and older sister Jadee, 12. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

Standing near an open kitchen cupboard, Ryan Erickson, 9, pointed to an upper shelf, asking for a Pop-Tart. It's a simple act most parents would hardly notice, but for Julie Erickson, it's proof that her son is getting better in the wake of a serious illness-epilepsy. "It's just been since last Thursday-the day before Christmas-that he's been doing this well," said Julie, who lives with her husband RJ and their three children in Grand Forks. "For (Ryan) to be able to go to the cupboard and tell us what he wants, or to go and get the dog, that's like a little Christmas miracle," she said. On Oct. 1, at St. Paul Children's Hospital, Ryan had "revision surgery" to disconnect a portion of his brain to reduce epileptic seizures, Julie said. It was the latest serious intervention by doctors to treat seizures which Ryan has been having for several years. But his health problems go back much further. Difficult times At 11 months old, he underwent surgery to remove a portion of his brain to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures. After that, until he was about 4 or 5 years old, he had been free of them. The Oct. 1 revision surgery had gone well, Julie said, and Ryan was recovering at home when he developed a staph infection that sent him by air ambulance back to the children's hospital on Oct. 10. The next day, surgeons removed a portion of Ryan's skull as a way to minimize infection and help his body to heal, Julie said. That piece of bone will be replaced in the future.
 During the six weeks that Ryan spent at the hospital, there were difficult times. "I think we were faced with losing him a couple times," Julie recalled. "We're so lucky to still have him here." In the past nine years of caring for Ryan, the family has faced "lots of highs and lows," she said. Their children, Justin, 14, and Jadee, 12, look out for Ryan, teaching and working with him to increase his knowledge, skills and capabilities. "It all kind of comes natural to them," RJ said. "They've been around hospitals all of their lives. They grew up a little faster than most kids had to." 'Better because of him' The parents said that they have received "great support" from their community, family, friends and pastors of their church, Calvary Lutheran, in Grand Forks. Angie McEwan, Ryan's caregiver who's employed by Easter Seals, arranged a bake sale in her hometown, Devils Lake, to raise funds to offset the family's expenses. "She's part of the family," Julie said of McEwan. Julie credits her and RJ's employers, UND and Rydell's Auto Center, respectively, for accommodating their needs in taking care of Ryan. At their children's schools-South Middle and Ben Franklin Elementary-"Team Ryan" T-shirts, bracelets, Facebook page and other tools were used to rally support for the family. "When you're going through something that's so awful, (having) a cheering team" makes a huge difference, Julie said. Living with Ryan has opened Justin's and Jadee's eyes to the different needs of other children, the siblings said. "Everyone else has something going on," he added. "You've got to be nice to kids; there might be a behind-the-scenes story you don't know about. ... I'm better with people because of him." "I've definitely learned that other people have stuff going on in their lives they may not want to talk about," Jadee said. "People who are different shouldn't be treated different." Both children speak up against bullying when they see it, Justin said, adding they are "kind of famous for that at school." "I've always known our family is really strong," Julie said. "We've been tested by the challenges we went through." Julie said she has seen those traits emerge in members of her family growing from their support and love for Ryan. "We've become a solidified unit."Standing near an open kitchen cupboard, Ryan Erickson, 9, pointed to an upper shelf, asking for a Pop-Tart.It's a simple act most parents would hardly notice, but for Julie Erickson, it's proof that her son is getting better in the wake of a serious illness-epilepsy."It's just been since last Thursday-the day before Christmas-that he's been doing this well," said Julie, who lives with her husband RJ and their three children in Grand Forks."For (Ryan) to be able to go to the cupboard and tell us what he wants, or to go and get the dog, that's like a little Christmas miracle," she said.On Oct. 1, at St. Paul Children's Hospital, Ryan had "revision surgery" to disconnect a portion of his brain to reduce epileptic seizures, Julie said.It was the latest serious intervention by doctors to treat seizures which Ryan has been having for several years. But his health problems go back much further.Difficult timesAt 11 months old, he underwent surgery to remove a portion of his brain to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures. After that, until he was about 4 or 5 years old, he had been free of them.The Oct. 1 revision surgery had gone well, Julie said, and Ryan was recovering at home when he developed a staph infection that sent him by air ambulance back to the children's hospital on Oct. 10.The next day, surgeons removed a portion of Ryan's skull as a way to minimize infection and help his body to heal, Julie said. That piece of bone will be replaced in the future.
 During the six weeks that Ryan spent at the hospital, there were difficult times."I think we were faced with losing him a couple times," Julie recalled. "We're so lucky to still have him here."In the past nine years of caring for Ryan, the family has faced "lots of highs and lows," she said.Their children, Justin, 14, and Jadee, 12, look out for Ryan, teaching and working with him to increase his knowledge, skills and capabilities."It all kind of comes natural to them," RJ said. "They've been around hospitals all of their lives. They grew up a little faster than most kids had to."'Better because of him'The parents said that they have received "great support" from their community, family, friends and pastors of their church, Calvary Lutheran, in Grand Forks.Angie McEwan, Ryan's caregiver who's employed by Easter Seals, arranged a bake sale in her hometown, Devils Lake, to raise funds to offset the family's expenses."She's part of the family," Julie said of McEwan.Julie credits her and RJ's employers, UND and Rydell's Auto Center, respectively, for accommodating their needs in taking care of Ryan.At their children's schools-South Middle and Ben Franklin Elementary-"Team Ryan" T-shirts, bracelets, Facebook page and other tools were used to rally support for the family."When you're going through something that's so awful, (having) a cheering team" makes a huge difference, Julie said.Living with Ryan has opened Justin's and Jadee's eyes to the different needs of other children, the siblings said."Everyone else has something going on," he added. "You've got to be nice to kids; there might be a behind-the-scenes story you don't know about. ... I'm better with people because of him.""I've definitely learned that other people have stuff going on in their lives they may not want to talk about," Jadee said. "People who are different shouldn't be treated different."Both children speak up against bullying when they see it, Justin said, adding they are "kind of famous for that at school.""I've always known our family is really strong," Julie said. "We've been tested by the challenges we went through."Julie said she has seen those traits emerge in members of her family growing from their support and love for Ryan."We've become a solidified unit."

Related Topics: HEALTHFAMILY
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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