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Woodinville neighborhood lights Berit's tree and begins fundraiser

Lundeen tree

Berit Cooper

When the huge decorated tree (above left) in Katie and Steve Lundeen's home in The Farm was lit Dec. 1, the annual event was a kickoff for "Buy a Light for Berit's Bright Future," a fundraiser to help fight and find a cure for Alternation Hemiplegia of Childhood, a disease afflicting 14-month-old Berit Cooper (above right).

Berit's tree by Carrie Phelps
With rosy cheeks and eyes dancing, the children of a Woodinville neighborhood looked up expectantly as the holiday season was switched on Dec. 1. A 50-foot Colorado Blue Spruce stood center stage and was set aglow with the energy of 2,000 white lights. As the tree was lit, the children cheered and raced around the tree as the caroling grew louder on Hollywood Hill in the community known as "The Farm."
   The lighting ceremony took place in the front yard of Katie and Steve Lundeen. This year marks the third year the Woodinville couple has hosted the neighborhood with hot cider, cookies, and caroling.
   "It's such a nice way to gather the children of our friends and neighbors together as the holidays approach," said Katie Lundeen. "This year has special meaning for us because the child of a good friend and neighbor needs our help."
   In years past, the Lundeens had asked for donations of canned goods for a local charity. This year they had another goal: to help a young girl who lives just around the corner from them, Berit Cooper, age 14 months. Berit was born with a disease called Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood, or AHC.
   "Berit was diagnosed with AHC at the age of nine months," said Laura Cooper, Berit's mother. "This early diagnosis was almost as rare as the disorder itself and is a credit to the medical community here in the Pacific Northwest. Most kids with AHC are not properly diagnosed as having the disorder until they are several years of age."
   The Lundeens and their neighbors helped raise more than $8,000 the night of their tree lighting ceremony. The donation campaign kicked off with a $1,000 donation from Eddie Bauer, where Steve Lundeen is Senior Vice President of Human Resources.
   "We're delighted we could help be a catalyst to focus the neighborhood on such a worthwhile cause. We're very optimistic this effort is only a beginning to help medical science rapidly find a cure for this horrible disease," Steve Lundeen said.
   Donations were made to the Alternating Hemiplegia Foundation, or AHF.
   "Our objective in helping to find a treatment and/or cure for AHC is to host the first-ever medical symposium dealing only with the possible cause and treatment of AHC," Kim Cooper, Berit's father explained.
   The symposium will take place this coming spring in Woodinville and will be attended by 25 or 30 of the top doctors and researchers from around the world from the appropriate fields of expertise.
   "All the proceeds for any fundraising done on Berit's behalf will go toward offsetting the costs of this symposium and the continuing research that will follow," Laura Cooper said.
   AHC is a debilitating childhood disease first recognized in 1971. Symptoms usually appear before one year of age. The child begins to experience paralysis of either side of the body and disturbances of eye movements.
   The episodes are often mistaken for epilepsy. In the majority of cases, as the child ages, mild or moderate mental retardation occurs. Attempts to find the cause of the paralysis and the disorder have yielded little result.
   The Coopers' friends are already implementing another fundraising effort on Berit's behalf. "The fundraiser is being called 'Buy a Light for Berit's Bright Future,'" Katie Lundeen explained. "The tree lighting ceremony was such a great start for our fundraising efforts that our idea is for anyone interested in making a contribution to AHF to be able to buy a light on the tree for a $10 donation. We think this is a realistic goal, because with 2,000 lights, a $10 donation will generate the needed funds for the Coopers' symposium and the continuing research needed."
   The Christmas Spruce, located at 15515 NE 144th Place, is lit every day from 4:30 p.m. until midnight. The towering spruce can be seen from as far away as Redmond and Kirkland.
   "We hope the public will feel free to drive by and enjoy the tree. Any donation can be made payable to AHF and mailed to Katie and me at our address," said Steve Lundeen.
   Anyone interested in making a donation in Berit's behalf can also make checks payable to Alternating Hemiplegia Foundation or AHF and mail them directly to the foundation at AHF; 30303 Plymouth Rd.; Livonia, MI 48150; or contact Kim and Laura Cooper at 486-3509 or Katie Lundeen at 481-4979 for more information.