Real Women, Real Stories | Charlotte Benson: Finding Hope After My Daughter’s Devastating Diagnosis

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Charlotte Benson

Photo by Catherine Sanderson |

Roots:  I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and became an interior designer.  When I was 31, I moved to Paris to export antiques back to the U.S. and while living there I met and married my husband Craig who is from Little Rock, Arkansas. He said that I was the only one who could understand his French! We moved to Austin in 2002.

Family Life: We have two children, Christiane, age 12 and Garland, age 10. My entire family (3 siblings along with their children and my parents) have all moved to Austin.  We are a family of 21!

Favorite Quote: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” (Anonymous)

I’m Most Inspired By… Craig, Christiane and Garland inspire me everyday. They teach me about life and challenge me everyday in ways that inspire me to be a better person.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given:  The best advice I was ever given was not advice at all. My grandmother made an indelible impression on me without ever having offered a single opinion. I learned that the ability to make a meaningful impact on others is more about the life you live than the advice you give.

Something Most People Don’t Know About Me… This past summer, I went on a week-long overnight campout in the Teton Wilderness without ever taking a shower or washing my hair!  And I can still ride a tricycle!

My Story

Bensons Fall 2013

On March 28, 2008, my husband Craig and I received the devastating news that our daughter, Christiane had been diagnosed with a very rare neurodegenerative disease called Batten Disease. Batten Disease causes blindness, seizures, is physically and mentally incapacitating and is ultimately terminal by the late teens or early 20’s. Seven years later, it still takes my breath away to write all of that in one sentence.

What I remember about the day of her diagnosis was the shocking numbness that seemed to freeze that horrific moment and every racing emotion as we fell to our knees in disbelief and horror. While we were on our knees we began to pray. Pray for strength, direction, comfort, and sustenance. The months that followed came with the incredible support and love of our family, friends, and community, and shortly thereafter Craig and I founded Beyond Batten Disease Foundation. The foundation has become a life purpose for us and a vehicle for virtually everyone we know who wants to do something to help make a difference to channel their talents, gifts and resources to find a cure.

Christiane’s diagnosis completely changed our lives and shifted how we viewed the world. It was clear that we had a choice of how we wanted to live life in light of this news. We could either crumble in sadness and defeat or we could embrace our new role and do something to try to make a difference.

The very first effect Christiane’s diagnosis had on me as a mother, was an immediate and automatic elimination of the superfluous fluff that filled my life. It was as if an automatic sensor sifted out anything that lacked meaning and depth, and simply pushed “delete.”  I learned to be still and present with my children in a way I never had before and inhale every moment I spent with them.

I not only began to experience my children in a new light, but began to realize that God had also blessed my marriage by giving Craig and me a shared life purpose to not only care for our daughter, but also to help others through the work at our foundation. We began to experience the profound depth and unbelievable generosity of our friends and community in a way that we would never otherwise get to experience. The success of our foundation is entirely due to the compassion, pure love and sheer will of human kind to make a difference. To see up close the intuitive and passionate response of others to our own personal adversity is an extraordinary blessing. Everyone has pain and suffering, but God can use even the worst of circumstances to bring out the best in people. As we have said many times before; we have far more for which to be grateful than regretful.

I also realized that being the mother of a child with a terminal illness gave me a unique perspective and I began writing about my experiences. The unique perspective that emerged for me was not one of despair and hopelessness, but rather one of God’s incredible love and provision. I discovered that hope is a light that shines most brilliantly in dark places and that this was actually an incredible gift to unwrap and share with others. Writing has become an opportunity to share that gift and the simple truths that our precious children teach us every day. It is my hope that by sharing my stories and the light that I experience in my own dark circumstances that I will be able to encourage others to find the light that illuminates theirs.


What is the goal of the foundation and can you tell us about the success you have had to date?  Our mission is to eradicate Batten disease and hundreds of other rare diseases like it. Today we are the leader for juvenile Batten research and have created a cohesive global research strategy. We have 30 key research projects currently underway as part of that strategy.  Over the last 6 years, $14.6 Million has been invested in research by leveraging donations, co-funding and partnerships because of our efforts.

Our success is entirely due to every single person in our community who has shared their talents and gifts and have joined our fight to save our daughter, and so many others like her.  Even though we have accomplished much in a short period of time, we still aren’t there yet!

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone else facing a devastating diagnosis of a child or loved one?  In the face of adversity, I think the most powerful antidote is gratitude.  I believe that focusing on the blessings in any unfortunate circumstance shapes our thoughts and ultimately creates our reality.

To read Charlotte’s stories, please visit

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

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11 thoughts on “Real Women, Real Stories | Charlotte Benson: Finding Hope After My Daughter’s Devastating Diagnosis

  1. Pingback: Charlotte Featured on iGnite’s Blog | Batten Blog

  2. Anonymous

    Charlotte and her beautiful family are so amazing and inspiring. I respect them, admire them and am in awe of each of them. Charlotte, Craig, Christiane and Garland all hold a very special place in my heart and always will.

  3. Valiree

    a friend name Donya cattle you should speak with. Her daughter had battens and passed away at 7 in September 2014. I think she could use your help.

  4. Pingback: A Mother's Story - Beyond Batten Disease FoundationBeyond Batten Disease Foundation

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  9. Pingback: A Mother’s Story | Beyond Batten Disease Foundation

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