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Updated 5:00 PM March 16, 2007




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Spotlight: Son's illness sparks MAIS manager's fundraising drive

Last year, Myron Hepner found a way to combine his love for the NCAA college basketball tournament and his gratitude towards the U-M Kellogg Eye Center through a unique fundraiser that involves watching 32 straight games of basketball in order to raise money for eye research.
(Photo by Karen Hepner)

The Michigan Administrative Information Services (MAIS) manager has a personal investment in March Madness Against Blindness. His son, Brendan, now 4, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when he was 9-months-old. Brendan now has a barely detectable prosthetic in his right eye, and is cancer-free thanks to the work of the doctors at Kellogg.

"With the care we received at Kellogg, my wife and I have always had in our minds the desire to give back," Hepner says. "We finally put two and two together to come up with this fundraiser because for the last 10 years, my friends and I have gotten together at Damon's Restaurant to watch the first round of the NCAA tournament. The more we did it, the more people knew we did it. Last year we were sitting around and decided we should do it to raise money."

The first annual March Madness Against Blindness happens March 15-16, between 11 a.m. and midnight. On these two days, Hepner has pledged to watch every game of the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament in exchange for donations in support of research programs at the Kellogg Eye Center. Donations can be submitted online or at Damon's, where 10 percent of diners' checks also will be given to the cause on the dates of the event. Damon's also is selling $1 paper basketballs to be posted in the restaurant throughout March. Proceeds will go to MMAB. All donors will be entered into a drawing for various prizes.

Hepner is an alumnus of the University, which he attended as an Evans Scholar. After graduating with a degree in industrial and operations engineering, he worked at several other locations before returning to U-M nine months ago. Hepner says he's "back home and couldn't be more thrilled."

At MAIS, he manages a team of communications, documentation, training and performance support professionals who support MAIS staff and the users of its systems and services.

Hepner and wife, Karen, worked together to formulate and publicize the event. Her graphic Web design skills came in handy for a Web site, which is and is hosted by her online design business, Pun'kin Prints.

Myron Hepner hopes to support a different research program at Kellogg every year. This time, all the proceeds will be donated to the research of age-related macular degeneration, a condition that affects 13 million Americans for which there is no known cure.

Although Hepner's son no longer has cancer, he gets his other eye checked twice a year and wears nonprescription glasses for protection. "Last week was Brendan's six-month exam. He knows he has to be careful of his eyes and be a good boy at the doctor," Hepner says. "The idea for us personally is that any research for blindness could really protect our son in the future."

"As we've started publicizing this event, it has really taken hold and grown," Hepner says. "I've had to reset my goals because we've already doubled our initial goals. We've been amazed and grateful for the support and how much this has jumped up and been received." Based on the success of this year's fundraiser, Hepner looks forward to getting corporate sponsors in the future. "We can see this really growing. It has already been beyond our expectations for this first year."

Hepner and his wife also have a daughter, Caitlyn, 2.

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