SCHENECTADY -- Union College student Alex Askenazy told his friends he planned to design new drugs and medical treatments -- possibly for epilepsy, the disorder that claimed his life on Oct. 8.
“He wanted tattoos of the molecular structure of his new drugs,” said Union sophomore Erick Landreth, who lived with Askenazy during their freshmen year. Phil Askenazy, Alex's dad, said the tattoo claim might have been a little puffery.
Pictured: Alexander Askenazy. (Via Union College)
Askenazy died in his Union dorm from Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), a little-understood complication of epilepsy that affects about 1 in 1,000 adults with the disorder each year. But his friends are hoping to do what they can to carry out Askenazy’s mission, specifically by raising around $4,000 -- so far -- for SUDEP research.
“This is a way we can help him with that goal, even though there is no way we could make up for a career of stuff he would’ve done,” Union sophomore Lindsey Randle said.
On Sunday, some of Askenazy’s friends and the college’s Alpha Phi Omega coed service fraternity are hosting a fundraiser dubbed Skate for Alex at Messa Rink on Union’s campus. Held during the ice rink’s regular public skate from 2 to 4 p.m., the students are taking a minimum of $5 donations – the regular price to rent skates. All proceeds will be donated to Citzens United for Research in Epilepsy, an organization selected by Askenazy’s parents.
A group of students close to Askenazy organized a memorial service in the days after his death. But they wanted to do more.
“All of us thought we couldn’t let it rest there; we had to do something more for the cause,” Landreth said.
When they started raising money to give to epilepsy research efforts focused on SUDEP, they set an initial goal of $500; they raised $600 in the first week. Other campus organizations have contributed by holding mini-fundraisers of their own. Students have handed $50 bills to Askenazy’s friends as they raised money on campus. The Alpha Phi Omega chapter at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute also donated to the cause.
“Every time we think: OK, $3,000; that’s all we will be able to do, more people come out of the woodwork,” said Union senior Arielle Singer, who knew Askenazy through Alpha Phi Omega, which has made Askenazy an honorary member, since he never formally joined.
They said they have raised nearly $4,000 since mid-January and are hoping to reach the $5,000 goal soon. They are also planning to take donations at the Schenectady Farmers Market on Feb. 18. And next year, they plan to host the second annual Skate for Alex fundraiser.
Askenazy's parents, Phil Askenazy and Wendy Hansen, of Albuquerque, wrote an open letter to the Union community in the student newspaper Concordiensis last month. They wrote that they were overwhelmed by the students and faculty who shared their memories of Alex.
"You all clearly knew him well, yet still remained his friend," his parents wrote. "We will never forget the touching words of those of you who knew him best."
Phil Askenazy said Alex's epilepsy started when he was in high school, and the disorder was well controlled. When they visited Union after Alex's death, Phil Askenazy said he was grateful to know Alex had so many close friends.
"It's a horrible situation, but when we went there, we were really made to feel at home," he said.
Askenazy’s friends remembered Alex as a hard worker devoted to both his studies and his athletics; he studied biochemistry and played goalie on the college’s club hockey team and was a leader of the fencing club. He always had his nose in flash cards he used to study, they said. He played drums and loved rock music.
Landreth first met Askenazy over a hearty dinner as freshmen. Askenazy enjoyed eating, his friends said. The logo for Sunday’s fundraiser is a piece of meat sitting on top of a hockey puck.
“He had three or four plates full of as much meat as he could carry,” Landreth said.
Randle first met Askenazy during an orientation trip to Lake George before they started their freshmen year. He was one of her first college friends.
“We were both pretty quiet people at first,” said Randle, who carries with her one of the pocket knives Askenazy had collected. “From the beginning, I could just tell he was a really kind person.”
If You Go
What: Skate for Alex Fundraiser for epilepsy research
When: 2-4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Messa Rink at Union College
Details: Minimum contribution of $5 requested