Leap Into Life: Kasten’s charity T-shirt company raising money for Evelina London

23 March 2021

Budding entrepreneur Kasten discovered his eye for fashion during lockdown when he started designing his own t-shirts. Since then, the nine-year-old has launched his own T-shirt company, which donates half of its profits to his hospital, Evelina London.

Johan, Franscisca, Kasten and Stirling Grol
L-R Johan Grol, Francisca Grol, Kasten Grol and Stirling Grol

Kasten’s story

Kent-based Kasten created the clothing brand Leap Into Life to spread a message of positivity and to thank staff at Evelina London, who nursed him back to health after he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition.

In March 2018, Kasten’s recovery from a common cold took a turn for the worse when he had a seizure at home.

“I’d never seen a seizure before, but when he started going blue, we realised he was going into respiratory arrest and had to start giving him CPR,” recalled his mum, Francisca. “It was absolutely terrifying.”

With the help of the 999 operator Francisca was able to get Kasten stable as they waited for the ambulance to arrive. But on the way to his local hospital in Tunbridge Wells, he went into full respiratory arrest. Once he got to hospital, he was put onto a ventilator while he awaited transfer to Evelina London for specialist care.

Over the course of Kasten’s first four days at Evelina London, he had around 50 further seizures. Francisca watched on distraught, as her son’s condition deteriorated and he lost the ability to do anything for himself.

“Kasten was like a completely different little boy,” she says. “He began to lose his speech and slowly lost the ability to do anything, until finally he couldn’t even swallow. He would just lie there, staring off into the distance.”

After working tirelessly, the team at Evelina London managed to diagnose Kasten with the rare condition autoimmune encephalitis, which can follow minor infections like a cold. Autoimmune encephalitis is the result of the immune system mistakenly producing antibodies which attack the brain, causing inflammation and leading to a loss of cognitive and motor function.

“The fact they were able to diagnose his condition and treat him within a matter of days has significantly reduced the likelihood of him relapsing later in life,” says Francisca.

Once they had identified what was causing Kasten to become so poorly, his doctors put all their efforts into his recovery.

Kasten underwent different treatments, including plasmapheresis, where the liquid part of the blood, or plasma, is separated from the blood cells, cleaned and then returned to the body. Thankfully, after this treatment, Kasten slowly began to recover.

“Before the treatment we began to fear the worst,” says Francisca. “But after it, he began to walk and talk. He has been slowly recovering since. It has been a long and sometimes difficult journey, but he is doing so much better. Now that he is back at school, he is doing really well.

“There are no words to describe how grateful we are to the team at Evelina London who cared for Kasten and still do to this day. They saved his life,” she continued.

But for Kasten and Francisca it wasn’t just the medical expertise, but also the care Kasten received that made their time in hospital a little brighter.

“Kasten adored his nurses,” recalls Francisca. “At Evelina London you get a multi-layered approach, you get the love, care and expertise of the nurses, as well as the professionalism and specialist knowledge of the doctors and clinicians.”
Kasten Grol with his family at Evelina  London
Kasten Grol and his family at Evelina London

Leap Into Life

When the country went into the lockdown in March last year, Kasten started asking his family about ways that he might be able to help raise some money for his hospital.

“Kasten has always thrown himself into different opportunities and is incredibly enthusiastic,” says Francisca. “He always has been and thankfully didn’t lose this through his illness and was determined to do something to show his support for Evelina London.”

After Kasten came up with the idea of Leap Into Life, a t-shirt brand that spreads a positive message, he decided to make it extra special for those who cared for him by giving 50% of the profits to Evelina London.

“I’d seen lots of adults raising money, but I thought it was time for kids to do it too,” says Kasten. “I saw a TV show about a boy who started his own business and that’s when I had the idea of doing the same and how Leap Into Life started.”

As well as designing the Leap Into Life website, Kasten also came up with the Leap Into Life logo himself, which has the image of a person jumping, along with a yin and yang symbol.

“The logo means “luck” to me,” explains the nine-year-old. “It is me leaping back into my life after the doctors and nurses and everyone at Evelina London saved my life. They save so many other people and they mean so much to me.”

After selling out of his first batch of t-shirts, Kasten has already made more. For the up-and-coming fashion designer, t-shirts are just the start.

“I already have other plans for Leap Into Life,” said the entrepreneur. “I’d like to make a hat or maybe a wristband.”

The team at Evelina London were touched to discover that one of their patients has such big fundraising plans.

“It’s fantastic to see how well Kasten is recovering and we’re so thankful he’s decided to raise money for Evelina London,” says Dr Ming Lim, paediatric neurology consultant at Evelina London. “Leap Into Life is an extremely apt name for Kasten’s t-shirt brand. He is an energetic and determined boy who hasn’t let his illness hold him back.”

“I’ve no doubt that Kasten is doing as well as he is thanks to his loving family, who have encouraged and supported him throughout,” she added. “We wish Kasten the best of luck with his fundraising and can’t wait to see what he designs next.”

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