‘Butterfly Swamp 5K’ to raise scholarship funds and awareness

Palludan siblings

For more than 18 months, Philip and Deborah Palludan have endured the kind of echoing pain no parent should ever have to shoulder.

In August 2013, their 18-year-old son, Ryan, died suddenly as a result of a little known disorder called Loeys-Dietz Syndrome. An unfathomable blow was dealt exactly a year later, when their daughter, Katherine, 21, died amid complications from the same disorder. Both Ryan and Katherine were enrolled at UALR.

The Palludans have dealt with their grief through the establishment of the Katherine and Ryan Palludan Memorial Endowed Award at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. They hope to further honor their children’s memory with the establishment of the “Butterfly Swamp” 5K Fun Run, coming to the UALR campus May 2.

All proceeds will support the Palludan scholarship as well as additional research and awareness of Loeys-Dietz Syndrome, which affects the connective tissues throughout the body, especially major arteries.

An unfamiliar syndrome

The family was unaware the syndrome existed until immersed in a living nightmare that began Aug. 18, 2013, when police knocked on their door at 6 a.m. to inform them their son had passed away.

“Ryan had just checked into his room on the UALR campus three days earlier,” said Deborah Palludan. “He was due to start his first day of classes the following day. We later found out that it was a devastating aortic aneurysm and dissection that took him from us.”

In the following months and after multiple tests, both Deborah and daughter Katherine were also diagnosed with the disease. Katherine had only one semester credit left before finishing her degree from UALR.

Katherine had open heart surgery on June 2, 2013, during which time she was exposed to a toxic environmental mold. After a long, brave battle and multiple surgeries, she passed away on Aug. 17, 2014, a year to the day after her brother.

“Katherine and Ryan both had full scholarships to attend UALR. We would like to help other young people attend college so they can fulfill their dreams and goals and realize that they can reach for the stars,” said Deborah Palludan.

“We hope people will join us in this endeavor and have fun at the same time,” she said.

The scholarship provides assistance to UALR students for the purchase of textbooks. The Palludans said they realized how hard it was for some families to deal with the rising costs of textbooks when they first sent Katherine to college.

Preference for the award is given to Arkansas students who demonstrate leadership and exhibit strong community service and who are pursuing majors in biology, nursing, geology, or anthropology. Academic excellence and financial need will also be strongly considered.

To contribute, send a check payable to UALR Foundation for the Katherine and Ryan Palludan Memorial Award, c/o UALR, 2801 S. University, Little Rock, AR  72204. Persons wishing to donate online may also go to www.ualr.edu/development.

Event background and details

The race name, “Butterfly Swamp,” stems from two passions of Katherine and Ryan. The hospital in Pennsylvania where Katherine spent the last three weeks of her life had a butterfly release, which brought her much joy. Ryan was an avid Florida Gator football fan despite living in Arkansas.

The Palludans encourage participants to use their imaginations and dress in a green theme that includes butterflies, gators, swamp creatures, or whatever else comes to mind.

The untimed event is a fun run/walk that will begin at 9:30 a.m. with a butterfly release to mark the beginning of the race. The course, mostly flat with a few slight inclines, starts on Campus Drive in front of UALR’s Donaghey Student Center and winds through UALR’s campus. The race headquarters will be open for onsite check-in and late registration at 8 a.m. There is ample parking space and nearby restaurants. Bathroom facilities will be available. Bring proof of registration and identification.

Photo courtesy Palludan family

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