LAKE STATION | Around the house, they call him the senator.
That's because the self-professed nerd not only is a football fan and player but also enjoys politics and can be caught watching C-SPAN for fun.
That's 17-year-old Drake Abramson, a junior at Edison Jr.-Sr. High School in Lake Station.
But Abramson isn't just a standout because of his 3.453 grade point average or his prowess on the football field or even his wrestling skills. It's his devotion to making people aware of the disease of epilepsy that's really put him in the big league.
Abramson said he became interested in epilepsy because of what happened to him four years ago.
"I was getting ready to snap the ball and I kind of zoned out," he said of that fall day in 2011.
"I went into my own world, and I never snapped the ball. I came out of this zone and everyone on the team was upset with me. I didn't know why they were upset. The coach took me out of the game. He talked to my parents and told them he thought I had a concussion."
Abramson's parents, Jennifer and Paul, took him to the hospital that night. He eventually underwent a variety of tests. He was diagnosed with complex partial seizures a month later in November 2011.
"I didn't even know what epilepsy was," he said. "I was scared. I went through a period of depression. I felt different from everyone else. I didn't even know anybody who had epilepsy."
Abramson said he was depressed for the remainder of his seventh-grade year and the beginning of eighth grade.
"I didn't know what it was going to mean for my life. I wondered if I would be able to play ball or hang out with my friends. I felt restricted from everything I wanted to do. I had to take pills every day; none of my friends had to do that," he said.
After a while, Abramson said he snapped out of it. He had an ah-ha moment.
"I had a self-realization that if I was sitting back and doing nothing, epilepsy had me," he said. "I had to turn the switch and I said to myself, I have to do something."
Abramson also had a change of medication that reduced his depression.
In March 2013, he went to the school board and told them about epilepsy and his desire to make more people aware of the disease.
"There could be other people like me out there who were dealing with something and didn't know how to approach it and were depressed about it," he said.
"Purple is the color for epilepsy. I figured we could have a purple day. Everyone would pay $1 to wear purple on a certain day at school."
Just a few days after his speech to the school board, Abramson raised $335.10 on purple day. He sent that money to the Epilepsy Foundation of America. After doing the "purple day" at school, Abramson felt like he could still do more to raise awareness for epilepsy and make students, staff and teachers aware of other people with health challenges.
"Being a teenager is already hard, then adding epilepsy or any other disease to that is even harder. When you have epilepsy, you have to take medication and try to keep up with homework and activities like sports," he said.
"You deserve something. My mom and I decided to give a scholarship to a graduating senior with a health condition."
The family found some unclaimed money through the State of Indiana's Unclaimed Property division and established the Betty J. Abramson Scholarship, named after his paternal grandmother. A student winner must have a health challenge, a B average and write an essay about how they handle their health challenge.
In 2014, the scholarship was awarded to Jessica Rivera. In 2015, the scholarship was awarded to Andrea Calderone.
Jennifer Abramson is intensely proud of her son. He is one of five, the middle child.
"One of the activities we did was a balloon release on the football field," she said.
"We also sold paper chain links in the cafeteria. I overheard one of the girls say, 'my brother has epilepsy.' Another said, 'my sister has an eating disorder.' Another said her grandma died of cancer. They were opening up a dialogue. They didn't feel so isolated with the issues they had. They felt like they could share a little more, and that was really a neat thing."
As a mother, Abramson said Drake's life has been a struggle. Abramson said her son was born three months premature, weighing only 2 pounds, 4 ounces.
"He went through years of physical, occupational and speech therapies. To see him where he is today just amazes me," she said.
Abramson has won a variety of awards for his cause, including the Serve Indiana Youth Award and the One Region Promise of the Future Award. He was named one of the 20 Under 40 Leaders of Tomorrow by The Times. He has spoken in Washington, D.C., with the help of U.S, Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, in favor of HR 1538, in connection with medical marijuana.
This past spring, he spoke to the Indiana Senate regarding making the public more aware of epilepsy, thanks to Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary.
"He was granted a rare opportunity to speak before the Senate," Rogers said. "He captivated the senators with his poise and passion. I heard many comments afterwards from my colleagues about how impressed they were with his presentation."
The senate passed a concurrent resolution honoring Drake Abramson for his efforts in raising awareness of epilepsy and recognizing Global Epilepsy Awareness Day on March 26, 2015.
Sandy Pollard, Epilepsy Foundation of Indiana executive director, said Abramson was chosen to represent the great state of Indiana at the Epilepsy Foundation of America’s Public Policy Institute/Teens Speak Up program.
"His positive and powerful message for our representatives on Capitol Hill was very well received," Pollard said. "Drake has taken the daily challenges of epilepsy and used them to lead by example. His interactions with our state senators was well beyond his youthful years, interjecting passion for research and a cure for epilepsy."
Abramson and his team members, all in purple socks in honor of epilepsy awareness, "sacked seizures" during half time, in honor of the time four years ago when he first became aware he had the disease.