For the past seven years, Elizabeth Bender has taken to the track to walk in honor of her younger sister Kathryn.
“[Kathyn was] selfless and caring and giving,” said Bender. “She was a dancer and actor so she was very into performing arts.”
Kathryn was a senior a Naperville North, planning to go to NIU to be a teacher, when she collapsed in the wings during a dance recital in 2005. Her family later learned she has long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder Bender never knew she had.
After her unexpected death, the Bender’s family decided they wanted do all they could to help other families from experiencing the loss of their loved ones and the Kathryn Bender Memorial Foundation (KBMF) was born.
For the past eight years, KBMF put on a 5K Walk/Run fundraiser. This year’s walk gathered more than 150 people who hit the pavement to help raise funds to be donated to Young Hearts for Life (YHFL) a not for profit started in 2006 that provides cardiac screenings to about 60 area high schools every other year.
“It’s free,” explained Bender. They don’t need to pay anything. All they need is a parent’s signature and they’ll get their EKG screening done at school for free.”
Sudden cardiac death claims the lives of 60 young adults every week in the U.S. With many of those teens having no signs or symptoms, making programs like YHFL so important.
“We have these poster boards of young people who have passed away from a sudden cardiac condition and unfortunately it seems like we get one or two more posters every year,” said Nick Bender, Kathryn’s brother. “So between KBMF and how we are helping out YHFL, they’ve screened 100,000 kids since 2006, which is an incredible number.”
One of those thousands screened was Waubonsie Valley High School student Chris Storm, the scan found a heart abnormality, which required him to get a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted. Today Chris is healthy and for the Benders it makes their labor of love worth it.
“We realized that it’s a tragedy for anybody to go through a situation like this and we tried to turn it around a make it be a positive thing and to help others from going through the same loss and the same pain,” said Elizabeth Bender.
In addition to funding YHFL, the KBMF also gives dance scholarships to local students to carry on Kathryn legacy through something she loved to do.
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