St. Paul’s holds Alumni Dinner, presents Impact Award

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Michael and Sara Heatherly at the St. Paul’s Alumni Dinner Saturday. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – St. Paul’s Lutheran School held its annual Alumni Dinner and Auction Saturday evening, after a year off due to COVID shutdowns. The event raised approximately $15,000 for the school. 

St. Paul’s Pastor Rev. John Bussman talked to The Tribune about how the school has fared through what will go down as one of the most unusual academic years in recent history. 

“We’ve come through the year surprisingly well. We were inperson all year long and never had to shut down, which was, with everything else going on, certainly by the grace of God. We kept the kids in the classroom, teachers for the most part stayed healthy, and we have seen-despite being apart-such a strengthening of our staff and our students.  

“Now, to this point at the end of the year when we’re able to come together, there’s such joy on the kids’ faces that they get to see such a larger school than just their classroom. And I’m really proud of the way the teachers and the leaders in the church have come together to ensure that this year was able to happen, we were able to continue forward and to provide this Christ-centered education that we do at St. Paul’s.”  

Impact Award 

At the dinner, the school presented its second Impact Award to alumnus Michael Heatherly for his work in promoting awareness and fundraising for research on GM1 gangliosidosis, a genetic disorder that affected his son Porter who was diagnosed at only 4 months old in 2012 with the rare disease that affects about one in every 200,000 infants. His was the first recorded case of childhood GM1 in Alabama.   

Heatherly and his wife Sara have, for years, both during their son’s battle with the disease and since Porter’s passing in 2016, worked to increase awareness of GM1 and promote fundraising for research and treatment. During Porter’s lifetime, he and his parents visited and encouraged researchers at Auburn University’s veterinary medicine Scott-Ritchey Research Center who were working on a potential human treatment based on previous animal research, and the Heatherly’s got the good news in 2019 that the first trial dose had been administered to a 10year–old girl. 

The Heatherly’s have raised over $300,000 for disease research and support of victims and their families. 

During his acceptance speech, Heatherly told the audience that he would never have been up for the award if not for his son. 

Said Heatherly, “Porter was not able to walk or talk, but he left a huge impact on this earth, and he is the reason that I’m receiving this award today. Sara and I were very blessed to be his parents. As life taught us to focus on the eternal perspective and less on this earthly life. We certainly view life now with a different lens. Our marriage has been refined, and our faith has grown immensely through this.” 

 Heatherly shared the exciting news that multiple human trials have taken place and, while no cure is in view, the treatments are showing promise. 

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com