Fun run to be held in memory of UALR students Katherine and Ryan Palludan

Ryan Palludan moves into his dorm room at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with his mother, Deborah Palludan, and older sister, Katherine Palludan.

Ryan Palludan had just moved into his dormitory at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Having been accepted into the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps scholarship program, the 18-year-old’s full ride to UALR seemed the beginning of a bright future.

Three days later, on Aug. 18, 2013, Ryan died from an aortic dissection.

Less than one year later, his older sister, Katherine, 21, who was also a student and member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps at UALR, died Aug. 17, 2014.

At the time of Ryan’s death, the Palludan family had never heard of Loeys-Dietz syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the flexibility and strength of connective tissues involved with muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, and bones.

In order to make a difference for families affected by aortic conditions and Loeys-Dietz Syndrome, Deborah Palludan started the Butterfly Swamp 5K fun run last year in memory of her children.

The event’s second fun run will be held Saturday, April 30, and will start in parking lot 2 on UALR’s campus. Registration will begin at 8 a.m., and the fun run will start at 9:30 a.m. with a butterfly release.

After Ryan passed away, Katherine and her mother, Deborah, were diagnosed with Loeys-Dietz Syndrome, which often manifests in children as aortic problems.  

Katherine had open-heart surgery to replace her aorta in June 2014. She was exposed to a toxic environmental mold called Rhizopus. After a long battle and multiple surgeries, she died just one day before the first anniversary of her younger brother’s death.

“We are having the race because we need to make something good come out of something so terrible,” Deborah Palludan said.

More than 15,000 people die every year from ruptured aortic aneurysms.

The Butterfly Swamp fun run is named in honor of the interests of Deborah’s children. Katherine had a love of butterflies, while “swamp” comes from Ryan’s fierce fandom of the Florida Gators.

“When Katherine was in Pennsylvania in the intensive care unit for three weeks, we were allowed to take her outside once, and they were setting up a butterfly tent. A gentleman let her release a butterfly, and it brought a smile to her face.”

Participants are encouraged to dress up as superheroes or wear butterfly wings. The fun run will  include face painting, a butterfly tent, rock painting, bean bag toss, miniature horses, ring toss, and a planting station. There will also be a raffle, silent auction, and activity bracelet sale.

The American Heart Association will have an informational booth, and UALR nursing students will be on site to check blood pressure.

All funds raised will be donated to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for research into medical conditions affecting the aorta and for scholarships through the Katherine and Ryan Palludan Memorial Organization.

To register for the race, visit the website. Registration is $10 for ages 6-17, $25 for ages 18-59, and $15 for those 60 and over.

For more information, visit the Facebook page set up for the event. To make a donation, contact Deborah Palludan at

In the upper right photo, Ryan Palludan (left) moves into his dorm room at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with his mother, Deborah Palludan (middle), and older sister, Katherine Palludan (right), during the fall 2013 semester.  

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