Thorp brothers give back

Thorp brothers give back

Torrin Thorp, left, and his brother Robbie Thorp show a few of the more than 400 DVDs that Torrin has collected from families of Cumberland students to donate to Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Robbie Thorp, who has epilepsy, had surgery at Hasbro in January 2013 to implant a device to stop his seizures. (Breeze photo by Brittany Ballantyne)

CUMBERLAND – The Thorp brothers of Cumberland have been making a name for themselves, and others facing epilepsy or hardships in the Rhode Island community.

Cumberland High School senior Robbie Thorp was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 10. At age 4, Robbie started riding motorcycles and became a champion in motorcycle trials, or observed trials, by age 9, when he placed first in New England and third in the United States.

When he was diagnosed with epilepsy, “that took away half my life,” he said, “and so I had to fill it with something.”

Since then, his schedule has been nothing but busy.

Through his efforts, Epilepsy Awareness Day has been established in Cumberland on Nov. 8, and after he wrote to former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, a proclamation was issued, marking November as epilepsy awareness month for the state.

For the past two years, the state capitol has been lit up in purple lights throughout November, the color that represents the disease, and Thorp was nominated to serve as Rhode Island’s ambassador for the Teens Speak Up! conference in Washington, D.C., where he met with Congressman David Cicilline and senators Sheldon Whitehouse and James Langevin to discuss raising awareness for epilepsy.

He’s helped co-chair a walk for the Epilepsy Foundation of New England in Pawtucket’s Slater Park this past October, has been honored at the foundation’s candlelight dinner in Cambridge, Mass., in November and arranged a “purple-out” hockey game at Salve Regina University in Newport with a player who also lives with epilepsy.

Thorp has brought his personal experiences and knowledge to Cumberland High School students and faculty while speaking out at events like the Make-A-Wish Foundation 5K walk at CHS in May and organizing a school-wide epilepsy awareness day.

Thorp’s list of accomplishments in raising awareness about the disease and how to address epilepsy won’t end there, though.

Come spring, he hopes to collaborate with CHS sports teams to do more “purple-out” games and matches, and continue to plan events and fundraisers that spread the word about epilepsy and support individuals with the disease.

His mother, Lisa Phillips, serves on the board of directors for the Epilepsy Foundation of New England. The group will volunteer in settings such as schools and businesses to show people what signs to look for if a person has a seizure, and how to handle a seizure situation.

She said 1 in 10 people will have a seizure, and with 42 different types, it’s important to know that even a blank stare can signal a seizure.

The foundation provides free workshops and “can tailor a program to anyone, and it’s a really worthwhile thing,” she said.

As of last week, Thorp is 13 months seizure-free, thanks to surgery he had to implant a VNS, or vagus nerve stimulator, which works like a pacemaker for the brain. On Jan. 28, 2013, Robbie had the surgery at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence.

Since the family spent so much time in the hospital, Thorp’s younger brother Torrin, a 7th-grade student at Joseph L. McCourt Middle School, decided to start his own way of giving back.

Torrin started what he calls the “movie project for kids,” a DVD donation drive for Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and also kicked off a VHS collection for the Rhode Island Family Shelter in Warwick, which Crossroads Rhode Island re-opened this year.

Each public school in Cumberland was able to participate in the drive after Torrin’s family collaborated with Mandy McLaughlin and other employees of Durham School Services, the bus company that transports students. Members of the bus company collected the movies from students as they got onto the bus. The drivers then dropped off the movies at their office, where McLaughlin then delivered the collection to McCourt Middle School.

“You should’ve seen the day that they delivered them all to McCourt,” Phillips said, explaining that the amount overwhelmed them, and the project then “took on a life of its own.”

After finding out the hospital doesn’t take VHS tapes that were also donated, Phillips called around to see which facility would, and found the Rhode Island Family Shelter.

“I see kids in the hospital, and they don’t have a lot of movies,” Torrin said, who was expected to present the DVDs in a ceremony at the hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

More than 600 VHS movies, two televisions and multiple VCRs were donated to Crossroads Rhode Island, and 400 DVDs were being delivered at the Hasbro ceremony.

In January, Community School will organize a DVD and VHS drive for Torrin. He also hopes to involve North Cumberland Middle School specifically.

Both Torrin and Robbie Thorp stay busy with volunteering their time, which Phillips said fosters their independence. “It’s just sort of typical in our day,” she said.

“Like brothers, they’re like oil and water. They fight, but they’re going to support one another, and I think that’s what it comes down to … they’ll yell at each other and they’ll say mean things, but don’t let anybody else say it about the other one – then they’re right there.”