by Pete Finlayson
There is an old story about a beach. It was the morning after a storm and the water had retreated back to its usual levels. A young man was jogging on this beach. He moved quickly and athletically along the sand, watching the waves crashing on his left as he ran. On his right, he could see the heights the waters had reached during the storm – much further than the waves could reach now, even at high tide. He had noticed that the sand there was littered with starfish — hundreds, maybe thousands, of them lay there exposed to the early morning sun. As the man continued his run he saw ahead in the distance a solitary figure standing on the beach. As the young man approached he saw the man was quite old – he couldn’t walk too quickly or stand up too straight.
He wasn’t much to look at. His hair was white and thinning. As the young man ran by he realized the old man wasn’t standing still at all. He was walking deliberately from starfish to starfish. He would bend down and carefully pick up the starfish and place him within reach of the water. As a wave surrounded the starfish it would get lifted off the sand and pulled back out into the ocean. The young man inquired of his elder as to what he was doing. The old man replied that the starfish would die if left stranded on the beach and that he was trying to save them. As the old man moved slowly toward the waves with another starfish in his hand, the young man laughed, “I’ve been running along the beach for miles and there are thousands of starfish. You can’t make possibly make a difference. Whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.” The old man looked up as he placed another starfish within reach of the waves and said, “It mattered to that one.”
As I look at the challenges that face those living with hydrocephalus and those who love them, I can’t help but feel that the situation we are in is not unlike the one on the beach. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans living with (and suffering from) hydrocephalus. Too often ignored or neglected by the medical community, individuals with hydrocephalus are often forced to endure lives filled with uncertainty and haunted by chronic pain. When I look at the relative few who have taken it upon themselves to fight for those without a voice – to advocate for more funding, to increase awareness, and to fund research, it is hard for me not to think of the little old man standing on the beach with a starfish in hand.
For too long I was like the young man on the beach. In 2008 my sister, Kate, faced difficult hospitalization. For a while we didn’t know if she would make it and her doctors didn’t know what to do for her. My brother and I, unable to do anything more than pray for her and hold her hand, felt helpless. We came up with the idea to swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco to raise funds and awareness for the non-profit Hydrocephalus Association. Joined by two friends, we formed Team Hydro and participated in the Sharkfest Swim. We raised $10,000. Each year we have enlisted more and more people to join us and last year announced the “Team Hydro/Kate Finlayson Research Grant.” Our total for 2010 topped $80,000 – enough for a year and a half of research. In 2011 we aspire to even greater numbers.
2008 –> 4 swimmers (raised: $10,000)
2009 –> 23 swimmers (raised: $27,000)
2010 –> 75 swimmers (raised: $80,000)
2011 –> ?? swimmers (raised: ??)
We take the plunge again on June 25th, 2011 and are currently looking for swimmers – young and old. We also love those who join us the morning of the swim for hugs and cheers – and we cannot thank enough the 100s of people who have contributed toward our cause. We continue to be inspired by Kate’s courage and grace. She has spent nearly all of the past 15 months in the intensive care unit suffering from complications arising from hydrocephalus, and has undergone countless brain-surgeries in attempts to treat her condition.