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Photo: Matthew Avignone
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The Epilepsy Fighters

Miguel and Kelly Cervantes

Miguel Cervantes admits he was distracted while auditioning for the title role in the Chicago production of Hamilton. It was May 2016, and his 7-month-old daughter, Adelaide, had just been diagnosed with epilepsy. On the day of Cervantes’s third callback in New York City, Adelaide was getting a spinal tap to try to figure out the cause. “A friend of mine happened to be outside the studio after the audition,” Cervantes remembers. “I was talking to him and put my head in my hands and got a little emotional, and he was like, ‘Hey, man, I’m sure you did great.’ And I was like, ‘Dude, thanks, but I don’t care about Hamilton that much.’ ”

The news got worse a couple of months later, when doctors discovered that Adelaide had what’s known as infantile spasms, a particularly devastating form of epilepsy that can lead to severe developmental and cognitive delays. Says her mother, Kelly: “You go to the hospital and find out you have cancer, and it’s, ‘Here’s the treatment.’ You get an epilepsy diagnosis, and you hear, ‘I’m sorry, there’s no cure. Let’s start throwing darts at a board to see which drugs might help.’ ”

Miguel landed the part and moved his family to Chicago, where he and Kelly connected with Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy to see how they could help others in their situation. Founded by Susan Axelrod, wife of political pundit David Axelrod, nearly 20 years ago, CURE is the nation’s largest nongovernmental organization funding epilepsy research.

The Cervanteses have since become a driving force in CURE (Kelly, a former events planner, serves on its board), as well as its new face (Miguel appeared in a CURE commercial). Miguel has put to use the platform his Hamilton role has afforded him. In April, he and members of the cast performed at a CURE gala, helping to raise $2 million. That same day, he released “ ’Til the Calm Comes,” a song he wrote about Adelaide, with all proceeds going to CURE. Now Miguel is helping relaunch the My Shot at Epilepsy social media campaign. (Think the Ice Bucket Challenge, but instead of being doused with cold water, participants strike the familiar Hamilton pose—left arm shooting up the sky—to encourage donations.) “The endgame,” says Miguel, “is to put epilepsy in the same conversation as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and ALS.”

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