Fundraiser to support Shelby girl with rare brain disorder

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published April 20, 2016


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — In the last seven months, 12-year-old Emma Ritzrow’s health has rapidly declined.

Emma, who was slated to begin seventh grade at Shelby Junior High School, has a rare, degenerative and unspecified genetic brain disorder that causes lesions and hemorrhaging in her brain, seizures, and muscular atrophy.

Darcy Fromm — a close friend of the family whose daughter, Emma, has been friends with Ritzrow since kindergarten — described Ritzrow as funny, witty, caring, loving, strong and courageous.

“She was devastated that she couldn’t go to school,” Fromm said. “But she’s a trouper. She hasn’t complained at all and she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. I don’t know how she’s doing it. It’s crazy. I would be sitting in a corner crying.”

The support from friends, family and the community has been staggering, Fromm said.

“There’s always a blessing that comes out of tragedies like this,” she said. “The community has been ridiculously supportive and unbelievably amazing. It restores your faith in humanity.”

On April 5, Emma’s mother, Heidi Ritzrow, wrote a letter to explain her family’s situation. In the letter, she wrote that Emma first started showing signs of strange behavior in the summer of 2015. She said her daughter lost weight, couldn’t focus and suffered headaches. She said doctors wouldn’t medically allow her to begin school.

She said the family has been pulled in many directions, with appointments, tests, confusion and health insurance issues that led to financial struggles and concerns.

“Since this has happened, I haven’t been able to work. My 14-year-old son needs some sense of normalcy in his life as we go through this ordeal,” Heidi wrote. “Thank you for caring for us as we go through this awful ordeal. We want our sweet Emma healthy.”

Fromm said Emma will travel to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, in June for further testing and treatment. She said Emma’s neurologists have ordered scans, ultrasounds, a spinal tap, a muscle biopsy and countless blood tests.

“Unfortunately, there’s thousands of dollars of genetic testing that’s (essential) to diagnosing that the insurance refuses to cover,” Fromm said. “The family is just completely overwhelmed.”

To help the family with the mounting medical costs, Fromm created a donation page at

Fromm also helped organize a fundraiser along with another close friend, staff from Shelby Junior High and the Shelby Lions Club.

The fundraiser will take place from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Shelby Junior High. It will feature a spaghetti dinner with a photo booth, a silent auction and raffles. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and younger. All proceeds will fund Emma’s testing and treatment.

Shelby Junior High is located at 51700 Van Dyke Ave., north of 23 Mile Road.

For more information, updates on Emma’s condition or to donate, visit