Lauren Axelrod is the daughter of one of the most influential men in Washington: David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama.
Lauren, 29, had her first epileptic attack when she was just 7 months old, and over the next 18 years those attacks became so severe that she could experience as many as 25 a day. The attacks did permanent damage to Lauren's brain and left her developmentally disabled.
In 2000, while she was in the middle of another severe attack, Lauren's doctor told the Axelrods about a new anti-convulsant drug known as Keppra. In just a few days after taking the medication, all her seizures disappeared. She became healthy, but she still needed round-the-clock care.
With Lauren's health improving each day, the Axelrods were worried about their own mortality and their daughter's future. They found a place called Misericordia, which means "Heart of Mercy." The Chicago-based home for the developmentally disabled has become a haven for families like the Axelrods.
Sister Rosemary Connelly has been the executive director and visionary for the not-for-profit home for 40 years. Known as "Saint Rosemary," she has created a nurturing and practical environment for the 600 residents on the 31-acre facility. "It's what can they do, what will make them fulfilled as people. And that's what we work at," Connelly says.
Running Misericordia costs $54 million a year. Families pay what they can afford, and the rest is made up through state and outside donors. "We have to raise $14 million this year, that's the deficit," says Connelly, who is determined to keep up the quality service in these hard economic times.
"We also have to raise money for construction and maintenance," she says, pointing out that she spends most of her time fundraising so that Lauren and the hundreds of other residents can have quality lives.
Today Lauren lives in her own apartment. She cooks, cleans and has plenty of friends -- but her favorite activity is working out.
"I love the treadmill," she says. "Yeah, I burnt 165.2 calories today and I did three miles today, too."
She is happy and thriving, her father says. "I realize that what we gave her was the opportunity to have a life of her own, and it's a wonderful thing," Axelrod says.
Another activity Lauren enjoys is painting.
Because he spends most of his time in Washington, Axelrod has hung one of Lauren's paintings in his West Wing office. It’s a picture of the White House, but Lauren added an image of the Chicago skyline in the reflection pool.
"And it's the first thing I see when I walk into my office every day," Axelrod says proudly. "So it's a little piece of home every day."
Axelrod will return to Chicago soon to be closer to his family and to begin working on the president's re-election campaign. He and his wife, Susan, meanwhile, will continue their fight against epilepsy by speaking to families all over the country.
Susan has created her own foundation, CureEpilepsy.org, which raises money for research.
Although Lauren is healthy, the Axelrods know that her seizures could return at any moment.
That’s why they've made it their mission to give hope to others.
"As Susan always says, it'd be a tremendous legacy for Lauren if other people didn't have to go through this because of the advances that we're able to make," Axelrod says.