Eric Erdman found his voice and he’s using it to speak out – loud and clear.
At age 16, the Millersburg resident was diagnosed with ependymoma anaplastic, a form of childhood brain cancer. Now 20, Erdman and his mother, Rita Ruch, have started a foundation to assist children in need when faced with unfortunate circumstances.
The T.E.K. Foundation CC Inc., a 501(c)3 organization doing business as Give a Child a Voice, aims to put an end to bullying, child abuse and life-threatening childhood illnesses.
Since 2016, the foundation has contributed to Millersburg and surrounding communities well over $485,000 to refurbish two weight rooms and support families and children in need.
‘There is no time to waste’
Erdman speaks from his own experience. Born prematurely at 1 pound, 15 ounces, he faced physical issues. His airway was the size of a pin and needed to be reconstructed. Once he entered school, he needed help with studies, and other children picked on him.
“For some reason, stuff happens in your life, and you can’t control it,” he said. “I was a victim of child abuse and bullying.’’ As a result, he became introverted and shy.
“I felt like I was all alone,” he said. “I felt like an outcast. I didn’t tell anybody when it was going on.”
During high school, Erdman began experiencing headaches. An optometrist prescribed new contacts, but the ailments increased.
A physician diagnosed tension headaches and prescribed medication, but they still continued unabated.
One day, after walking home from work at a local restaurant, Erdman became very ill and ended up in a hospital emergency room, which led to the cancer diagnosis. Since then, he has had four brain surgeries, 61 sessions of radiation and a clinical trial of chemotherapy.
In August 2019, he got the news that he had six months to live. “My feeling on approaching month six – well, there is no time to waste, there’s a lot to be done,” he said. “I will raise my voice for the many boys and girls who are suffering in silence today long after I am gone. I know my family and foundation will be certain of this.”
Erdman was accepted at Penn State University and granted an honorary bachelor’s degree in business of science at age 19 because of his accomplishments.
‘In hard times, people care’
While undergoing an MRI at the MD Anderson Center at the University of Texas, which he visited for three months of treatment, Erdman got the idea to do something for the community.
His way of dealing with the pressures of his childhood was to lift weights, so he chose to equip a weight room at Millersburg Area High School. Through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he received $14,000; most of the equipment for the room, now valued at $300,000, was donated.
“When you’re in your hardest times, people, they care,” Erdman said. “When you’re weak and when you need help, so many incredible people are there for you, complete strangers who you never met.’’
A Go Fund Me campaign raised SEE ERDMAN • PAGE A8