Khetarpal, Lau organize team for Lau’s godbrother, fundraise for MDA

Every month, Hugh Lau (11) visits his 13-year-old god brother, Ben, and his family. Together, they play board games and mind games, laughing over Monopoly fights and crossword puzzles, your typical activities at a family gathering.                However, Ben has spinal muscular atrophy (SPA), a rare degenerative nerve disease that is characterized by progressive muscle wasting and a loss of motor neurons, rendering Ben paralyzed from the chest down.

“Ben’s a brilliant, brilliant kid,” Lau said. “He’s way ahead of most high-schoolers in math, but he’s so humble about it. He’s interested in all STEM subjects, which is something we share.”

After knowing Ben his entire life and seeing him battle his disease, Hugh said he felt that it was time for him to do more for Ben. The MDA Muscle Walk of San Diego provided him just the opportunity.

Together, Lau, Anuj Khetarpal (11), and Ben’s sister, Lucy, organized a team for Ben. Team Ben was one of 56 teams that participated in the run that helped raise $41,849.

For Khetarpal, he initially heard of this cause through Hugh.

“I’m very close with Hugh, he’s like my brother so basically the fact that Ben is super close to him made me want to help the cause,” Khetarpal said. “Once I did meet Ben, it made me more inclined to help as it made me feel happy knowing that I was doing something for someone as amazing as him.”

In preparation for the walk, Khetarpal and Lau posted all over social media to spread the word to get people interested, and hopefully attend.

“We kind of talked to every single person we knew both of us and people from other schools to try and come out and help support the cause,” Khetarpal said. “Since it was a personal thing for [Hugh] and the both of us since we know Ben it kind of just inspired us to organize event to get more people.

After gathering all the information of interested people and coordinating a time and place for everyone to meet.

On the day of the run, Khetarpal and Lau helped set up before the event and clean up after while also meeting the president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).

“It was unbelievable to see how many people wanted to participate and help the MDA foundation, and even if people couldn’t make it, they still donated, which was amazing,” Lau said.

“The best part was just seeing Ben super happy,” Khetarpal said. “He was really excited that so many people came and it was an incredible thing knowing that we helped organized and made that happen.”

Lau has been participating in the MDA Muscle Walk for years, as well as volunteering for other events, such as the MDA Summer Camp. The weeklong camp at Camp Cuyamaca caters to children with muscular atrophy and other muscle-debilitating diseases.

It’s a typical summer camp, with outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding and swimming, along with arts and crafts.

It was there that Lau developed a close connection with one of the campers, Ethan. At camp, they spent hours doing countless activities together, and on certain days they would go swimming.

“As a swimmer I was able to play with Ethan in the deep end or anywhere and he always loved having the freedom of going anywhere he wanted,” Lau said. “It was humbling because I often take the physical abilities I have for granted and just spending time with Ethan was such a fun and fulfilling experience.”

It’s these experiences that encourage Lau to be proactive in supporting organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Because of this, Khetarpal and Lau are planning to start a club on campus for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in order to spread awareness about events such as the MDA Muscle Walk and the disease itself. The club will focus on making more people aware of this disease, as well as promoting the cause in order to grow the number of participants at MDA events.

“We talked to the president of MDA, and she wants to continue work with us,” Khetarpal said. “She knows when all the events are  so we’re looking forward to the future as well as organizing and partcipating in more events and making it a bigger thing.”

It’s a feeling of self-transcendence that felt when organizing the MDA Muscle Walk that energizes him to invest more in helping the MDA cause.

“It’s that feeling that you’ve accomplished something for a better cause and that you’re doing something for the greater good of other people that pushes me to continue to support causes such as muscular dystrophy,” Khetarpal said.

Ben’s disease hasn’t stopped Lau and Ben from developing a close friendship, bonding over a love for STEM—especially mathematics. The two help each other. Lau helps feed Ben at family dinners, always giving Ben his favorite food: jelly sticks. In return, Ben teaches Lau to make the best of every situation and always find a silver lining.

“He’s always happy, never mad I’ve never seen him mad my entire life which is something I look up to because everybody has their bad days but Ben can always find something good in a situation.”

And that energy inspires Hugh. It inspires Hugh to take action, raise awareness, and do anything he can to help find a cure for Ben’s disease.

“I’ve known Ben my entire life, and his unwavering strength and positive energy has always inspired me,” Lau said. “I’ve always wanted to help more, do more for Ben. And with this run, I’ve finally been able to do that and I’ve planning to continue to organize and participate in MDA events.”