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‘Art for Katie’ event at Huntington Beach museum to help surfer with rare disease

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

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Katie Berry stopped in her tracks when she saw it: an image of a girl with flowing hair riding a wave, on a colorful poster hanging from a door at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum.

The drawing, created in her honor for a fundraising event called "Art for Katie," prompted tears to stream down her face. She raised her fist and held it to her heart, her index and pinky pointed upward, the sign for "Love."

"We are completely, again, just blown away with the kindness of this community. These are surfers — they do not turn around and do nothing. They are so charitable and have such a loving spirit," said Katie's mom, Brenda Berry. "When they see something, like has happened to Katie, they jump in to help."

Orange County's top surf artists are coming together July 22 at the Huntington Beach International Surf Museum to help Katie Berry, a 25-year-old surfer who is slowly healing and starting to walk again after a struggle with Addison's disease.

The rare ailment during her high school years, when she attended Huntington Beach High School, made her skin unusually tan and caused her to be constantly fatigued, occasionally fainting.

Doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong until she was in San Francisco attending college and her parents got a call that she wasn't expected to survive the night.

After several tests, Berry was diagnosed with Addison's disease, a rare ailment that depletes hormones made in the adrenal glands, a loss of cortisol in the system that sucks out salt in the body and can cause chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, weak muscles that go into spasms and darkening of skin.

When what's called a "total crisis" hits, the body shuts down.

Berry, then 19, made it through the scare in San Francisco and was given steroids and other medications to help balance her body's deficiencies.

The surfer who loved to spend winters hitting the snowy slopes wouldn't let her sickness slow her down. She wanted to continue her education, getting a scholarship to Chapman University but needing to drop out because of her illness. She continued classes at Saddleback College, shifting her focus from event planning to becoming a neuro-ultrasound specialist.

But on Jan. 4, 2016, she collapsed in the early-morning hours, her heart stopping for 35 minutes, according to her mom.

She was in a coma for more than a month. But after six weeks, she opened her eyes.

After four months, she could hold her head up on her own. Then she could swallow food. Then, she was able to walk a short distance with help.

Now, she can mostly walk short distances without the help of a wheelchair, though she still cannot speak.

In her younger years, Berry helped whenever someone was in need. When friend Mike Fisher was diagnosed with brain cancer, she rallied to help with a surf contest to raise funds, and she was a regular volunteer with Life Rolls On, which helps surfers in wheelchairs ride waves.

When friends learned of her struggles, they held a surf contest benefit earlier this year that generated $15,000. They also helped her get back on a surfboard, once again feeling the fresh salty ocean on her skin.

Local supporters worry about her future, with her mother — her caretaker — battling an aggressive form of cancer. So they created the art show to raise more funds for her care.

About 20 artists are donating work, including Huntington Beach artist Dave Reynolds, Hawaiian artist Heather Brown, and San Clemente artists Joshua Paskowitz and Drew Brophy. Local photographers are donating images to be auctioned.

"The surf community thought it would be a great idea to do something nice for them, especially with the uncertainty of the family's future," said Don Bigelow, who is helping to organize the event alongside Reynolds and fellow surfer Don Ramsey. "She always has a smile on her face."

Brenda Berry said it's just the latest example of goodwill in recent months, with acts like simply sitting with Berry while her mom goes to oncology appointments.

"It's the emotional support that is so uplifting. The financial is fine and dandy and is so sweet," Brenda Berry said. "But the emotional support carries our hearts when we face what we're facing and lifts us."
Art for Katie

When: 6 to 9 p.m. July 22

Where: 411 Olive St., Huntington Beach

Cost: $10

Details: There will be music by the Ramsey Brothers Band, food and beverages; Rick "Rockin Fig" Fignetti will host the event.

More information: 714-300-8836

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