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Posted on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

March Hoops to Beat Blindness: Dad raising funds for Kellogg Eye Center after son's cancer ordeal

By Janet Miller


Dad Myron Hepner started the Hoops to Beat Blindness fundraiser at Damon's Grill after his son, Brendan, now 9, was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer when he was a baby. He has been cancer-free since surgery, performed by doctors at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. Some $28,000 has been raised for Kellogg. Also pictured is Brendan's younger sister, Caitlyn.

Janet Miller | For

Brendan Hepner was just 9 months old when his parents noticed that his two eyes looked different from one another in photographs: One had the red eye that comes with using a camera flash. But the other had a grayish/white color. When they looked at Brendan up close, they saw the same off color in one eye.

When they took Brendan to his doctor, the infant was immediately referred to the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, where he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare cancerous tumor on the retina. “I’d never even heard of it,” said Brendan’s father, Myron Hepner.

Brendan’s eye was removed and, because it had been caught early, the cancer didn’t spread. Brendan, now 9 years old, is cancer-free. “The people at Kellogg were fantastic,” Hepner said. “They treated us so well and they were wonderful to Brendan.”

Three years after the surgery, Hepner was thinking how grateful he was to the Kellogg Center for saving his son’s life. Brendan had been lucky: If it had not been caught when it was, it could have quickly spread to the brain.

Hepner also was in the middle of an annual tradition where he gathered with a small group of friends at Damon’s Grill on Boardwalk Drive south of Ann Arbor to turn March Madness into a March marathon, watching every game of the first round of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. That’s 32 games and 24 hours of viewing divided over two days.

Hepner decided to combine the two: Finding a way to honor the Kellogg Eye Center and celebrate the college basketball tournament.

In 2007, Hepner started March Hoops to Beat Blindness, a fundraiser that has raised more than $28,000 for a variety of programs and projects at Kellogg Eye Center. This year’s fundraiser will be held Thursday and Friday. It’s also gives other Kellogg Eye Center patients and their families an avenue to donate, he said.

“In the six years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had so many people come up to me to tell me about their equally wonderful experience at Kellogg,” Hepner said. “They had the same really great service, but that also didn’t know how to give back. No one feels comfortable walking in and giving the doctor or the receptionist a check. This gives people an avenue to support Kellogg.”

Hoops to Bear Blindness raises more than money, said Aimee Bergquist, marketing communications specialist at Kellogg. It raises awareness and good will, she said. Each year, Hepner selects a different area within Kellogg to support with the fundraiser, from Graves eye disease to the Children’s Eye Clinic. This year, the fundraiser will support research around vision loss as a complication of diabetes. The Delta Gamma sorority at U-M also has joined in the fundraiser.

Each year, Hepner takes two vacation days from his job IT job at U-M. There is no basketball burnout, he said. “To me, it’s two really great days of sport. Having it as a fundraiser energies me.”

There are three ways to donate: Go to Eat at Damon’s Thursday or Friday, where 20 percent of receipts will go toward the fundraiser. Or purchase a paper basketball (for $1, $5 or $10) at Damon’s, and it will be posted at the restaurant.

Brendan, a basketball fan who divides his allegiances between U-M and Duke, thinks the fundraiser is a fine idea. “It’s like being fair,” he said. “When someone does something nice for you, you should do something nice back.”



Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

This is a great and heartwarming story. Unfortunately, the poor editing and numerous typos are distracting to the reader. Hoops to Bear Blindness would, in reality, not get much support. your act together!


Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

This is a wonderful event for a wonderful cause. We have been going for four years and have put it on our calendar as soon as we know when the first two days of the March Madness will be. It becomes like a big family with seeing more and more familiar faces each year.Seeing Brendan and his family each year is also special. If you are thinking about coming, stop thinking and head to Damons. You will have a great time and help a great cause and the next thing you know, you will be marking your calendars too! Thank you Myron, Brendan and Damons, keep up the good work.


Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 10:46 a.m.

God bless and have a great turn out for success. Best wishes to all.

Linda Moore

Wed, Mar 14, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

This story brings back so many memories. Our granddaughter, who lives in MO, was diagnosed with this cancer just before her 3rd birthday. The doctors at the hospital in Kansas City diagnosed it very quickly and before she was 3, they had removed the cancerous eye. It was a very scarey time for all of us. Katelynn is now 11 and it is hard to tell (unless you know) that she has an ocular prosthetic We all learned so much about the cancer, the surgery, the specialists who "create" the prosthetic - well, the whole process! It's amazing and we thank God that she was diagnosed early and is a healthy, happy young lady. GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME! Thank you, Mr. Hepner, for starting the fundraiser. Your son looks great!