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Cry for help strikes chord of friendship

Musicians band together in benefit concerts to aid a pal from their high school days whose son suffers from a brain disorder with no cure.

August 22, 2007|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Dori Harrison-Clements hesitated to call anyone for help, but she was desperate.

She had no job. One of her two sons suffered from an incurable medical disorder. And she could not think of what to do to make things better.

Then a birthday party chat changed her thinking. Perhaps her old friends from high school -- even if they had not seen her in nearly 30 years -- might care enough, might remember some fun times, might open their hearts to lend a hand.

Harrison-Clements, encouraged by friend Kevin Wachs, began dialing. Wachs suggested she organize a fundraiser with their rock music pals from the old days.

"All I know is I told the truth," she said. "And I told it with love."

To her delight, Harrison-Clements found that her message of despair reached her old friends. They valued the bonds they had created as teenage music lovers in the San Fernando Valley. They shared curiosity about the ailment afflicting her son. They felt compassion for her. And, to her astonishment, they immediately felt eager to do something special to help.

The friends launched themselves on a volunteer journey that has raised several thousand dollars for a nonprofit group called the Intracranial Hypertension Research Foundation. The friends -- as members of several bands -- performed at B.B. King's Blues Club and Restaurant in Universal City last year and the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas in July.

"We get asked to be involved in charitable events over and over again," said Steve Ogg, lead singer for Captain Cardiac and the Coroners. "But there were two things about this that made us want to participate: An old friend of ours was involved, and Dori made it very personalized."

Harrison-Clements, 49, thinks the emotional pain of a mother witnessing her child's trauma came through in her pleas for help.

Her son Robbie Clements, 17, has suffered excruciating headaches triggered by intracranial hypertension ever since a garage door hit him on the head in 2002 at their former home in Morro Bay. He has endured numerous hospitalizations and surgeries to help relieve the pressure, she said, but there is no known cure. The foundation describes intracranial hypertension as the general name for disorders "in which the cerebrospinal fluid pressure within the skull is too high."

Wachs was the first musical friend from the past to hear about the severity of the challenges faced by Harrison-Clements and her son Robbie. She also has a son Richie, 19.

Wachs and Harrison-Clements, who met in the 1970s during a cruise night on Van Nuys Boulevard, had remained friends. Wachs invited her to his 50th birthday party in April 2006, where they found a chance to catch up.

He asked how her children were doing. For Harrison-Clements, who was struggling with depression and fatigue, the question was too much. She burst into tears.

"We've exhausted" every medical resource, she told Wachs. "There's no other option for Robbie in the future, except through research. The doctors have done all they can."

Wachs hugged her.

"We need to have a concert," he said.

Though timid at first, Harrison-Clements listened to Wachs, the owner of a skin-care company in Chatsworth who formed the nonprofit Get Together Foundation after 9/11 to raise money for charities. She began reaching out to everyone they could remember from their close-knit group of rock music lovers and musicians from various Valley high schools.

Guitarist Doug Pettibone, who plays in singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams' band, received a call from Harrison-Clements in spring 2006.

"I was in fear, because I knew how famous he'd gotten and I thought he wouldn't remember me," Harrison-Clements said.

Pettibone, by coincidence, was visiting with his former bandmates from high school for the first time in many years when Harrison-Clements called. After hearing her emotional plea, Pettibone asked the other musicians on the spot if they would do it.

The answer came quickly and firmly: Yes.

Tim Piper, 51, a John Lennon tribute artist, had a similar experience.

"Out of the blue comes a phone call from Dori," Piper said. "I hadn't seen her in 27 years. I could tell on the phone what sort of wreck she had become. She had no idea what to do. She asked me, 'Is there anything you could do to help?' "

To Piper, it was as if those three decades had melted away and they were back in high school.

"It was like a flashback," Piper said. "It didn't take much to click and say, 'Gosh, one of us is hurting. What can we do?' We still have our idealism. I think Dori is living proof of that."

Rather than simply providing support for Harrison-Clements, the group's efforts have focused on helping the Intracranial Hypertension Research Foundation raise money for research and increase public awareness about the disorder. The friends are planning a third concert sometime soon and hope to schedule an event each July. In addition, their fundraising is inspiring other families and friends to sponsor events across the country, said Emanuel Tanne, co-founder of the foundation.

Harrison-Clements, who remains unemployed because of a neck injury and lives on disability payments, acknowledged that her family continues to face its share of obstacles. She lives in Thousand Oaks, and Robbie now lives with his father in San Luis Obispo. But her friends have filled her and her family with hope.

"The first concert brought me and my boys back to life after five years of trauma and pain and hospitals," she said. "We never knew we had so many friends and that so many people cared. It changed Robbie and made him realize there is so much love out there and he has a reason to keep going."

--

amanda.covarrubias@latimes.com

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