Being a 13-year-old girl is hard enough, now imagine having to navigate that age while also suffering from epilepsy. For Kara Lynn, this was her reality, but one which made her into the strong, amazing person she is today. She says at the age of six, she was a happy, bright child, but then she suffered her first seizure. Luckily it would be seven years before she had another one so it was easy to hide her diagnosis from friends and appear to be just like everyone else. But then everything changed.
Kara started having grand mal seizures, sometimes even multiple ones in a week, while she was in middle school. “I had a solid group of friends, but then all of a sudden it was like nobody wanted to be around me. I ate lunch in the bathroom, people made fun of me and called me names,” she shares. It was like her entire world changed overnight.
Kara didn’t get to drive like everyone else when she turned sixteen. She couldn’t even shower without someone in the room to make sure she was safe. Her independence was gone and with it went confidence. After barely graduating from high school, Kara says it was just a downward spiral. She couldn’t hold a job and distanced herself from family. “I spent my twenties feeling like I had to be somebody else just so people would like me. I’d meet a new person and create a life and hide my epilepsy. It wasn’t a healthy way to live.”
However, it wasn’t until the death of her grandfather that Kara decided to start doing things differently. She says one day she just had one of those “aha” moments. “I just started changing my approach to life. I accepted that I have epilepsy. But I also had to learn to accept myself and where I was at. I just found that being honest and yourself really does do you a better service than trying to hide things.”
Not only did Kara find she could finally be herself, but an inspirational message came to her one day that she knew could help others. “I thought of this saying, these eight words. Be kind, be true, be strong, be you. Then I decided to put it on a shirt, coffee mugs and all these other things and started selling them. I wanted kids to understand that if you live by those eight words you really can’t not be successful; we all have something to offer.”
When her business really started to take off, Kara opened three different stores across the South Sound area selling her products, but found it wasn’t her calling. She wanted to do more with her message. At the suggestion of her business partner, she decided to share her story with the world and formed the Kara Lynn Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping kids with epilepsy and their families. “Ever since I’ve just been telling my story and I just feel like I took something that was such a negative and turned it into something that is such a positive. I’m able to help kids learn that this diagnosis isn’t the end of the world.”
The main focus of the Kara Lynn Foundation is to provide experiences to kids and families they wouldn’t normally get to have due to their circumstances. All too often, kids with epilepsy require long hospital stays so the organization steps in to help with lodging and food during that time. But another key component, Kara says, is educating other kids about epilepsy to combat bullying. As she saw herself as a child, it’s not always easy to accept what’s different and what you don’t understand.
Like any non-profit, the Kara Lynn Foundation relies on the support of the community to get their message out and to help others. But Kara says she likes to do her fundraising a little different. “So I literally thought up this idea at four in the morning a couple years ago. I said, ‘I’m going to kayak from Seattle to Olympia and I’m going to do it in only three days.’ Everyone said there is no way you can do it in that amount of time. But I’m the kind of person that if you say I can’t do something, I will make it happen.”
So that’s exactly what she did. And the fundraiser was so successful, Kara is ready to hit the water again.
On June 11, Kara will leave from Boston Harbor Marina in her kayak, head to Gig Harbor, around Vashon Island and then paddle back down to Olympia to Kayak for a Cause. “It’s an awareness event, but also a great fundraising opportunity. It shows kids not to limit themselves. You really can do anything. You just have to figure out a way. I truly feel like I have a positive impact on every person that I meet. And I feel like I’m able to do that now, by just being myself and that feels really good.”
If you would like to sponsor Kara on her journey or learn more about her non-profit, visit the Kara Lynn Foundation.