Student's suicide shines light on 'chronic blushing'

SEATTLE -- Blushing is something we all do when we're embarrassed or ashamed.

At worst, it's uncomfortable, but for one University of Washington student blushing hurt so much that suicide seemed to be the only way to make it stop.

On Tuesday, May 29, student Brandon Thomas jumped to his death from the University of Washington's McMahon Hall.

"He jumped from his dorm balcony. It was 13 stories," said Brandon's father, Steve Thomas.

Brandon, just 20-years old, died instantly, just as he'd planned.

"When we got the call the day he took his life, I never asked -- neither one of us asked. We knew," said his mother, Dawn Thomas.

What Dawn and Steve knew instantly was that their son's secret life of torment had pushed him to the brink, and then over it.

"It breaks my heart knowing that I couldn't save him from this, and as a parent you want to save your kids from everything," Dawn said. "Even though he was 20, he was still my little boy and I couldn't save him from it."

While they knew he was suffering, Steve said he didn't think suicide was a choice that Brandon would ever make.

In a five-page suicide letter to his parents and twin brother Devin, Brandon revealed he was psychologically crippled and drained by a relatively unknown medical condition called chronic blushing. He considered himself cursed. Every day, multiple times a day, he blushed uncontrollably for no reason.

"It was impacting him every minute of his life. That broke my heart watching it," Dawn said.

With chronic blushing, an overactive nervous system triggers uncontrollable blushing. Brandon's fear of turning red made him even more red.

Brandon hated that others assumed he was embarrassed, ashamed or lacked confidence. In his suicide note, he wrote that his blushing would prevent him from ever having a career, a relationship or any kind of normal life.

"He said this was exhausting and no one should have to live this way and him jumping would bring awareness to the medical community," Dawn said.

Brandon's parents say no one should have to die to make a difference. They understand his desperation, but don't condone suicide.

In an effort to help others suffering from the condition, the family launched a website in Brandon's honor that offers sufferers a place for hope and help.

Brandon considered surgery to stop the blushing, but when he was given only a 50-50 chance of success, he lost hope. His final wish was that his story would be told and he could help others.

"There are numerous people who have said (the website) saved their life. The most recent, a young cop from London who was one week away from taking his life," Steve said.

Next to Brandon's suicide note, his parents found his "Bucket List" of things he'd like to do before he died. Included on the list were sky diving, growing a beard, conquering blushing and saving a life.

Joshua Hanson represents a live saved. The daily blushing episodes started for the Tenino teen in high school.

"He described it as a flushing feeling. He felt like heat rising up through his face. He would get very, very red and his ears would almost turn purple," said Sheri Hanson, Joshua's mom.

His parents tried to make light of it, but Joshua got their attention over the summer when he told them he couldn't go to college until he got help for his blushing.

That's when Sheri found the Thomas family's blushing website.

"I read his story and heard his parents cry out for Brandon and I just knew I had to do something," Sheri said.

Now a freshman linebacker at Portland State University, Joshua has been blush free since his surgery in August.

"My earnest hope is that other young people would find hope through this story and they would get help," Sheri said.

Experts say the surgery to treat chronic blushing is not for everyone. After surgery, patients lose the ability to sweat from their head. Brandon's parents call the procedure risky and controversial.

One thing both parents said is that they learned that hard way to never tease a blusher, because it may be a condition they can't control.

More information about Brandon and chronic blushing is available online.
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