By Theresa Java

“Last year, we were in a dark place. We had no idea what it was we were up against,” said Michelle Bennett, speaking for her husband, dentist Travis Bennett. They have two children and the youngest, 4-year-old Stella, had just been diagnosed with Rett syndrome.

Less than 12 months later, Michelle is hard at work to raise awareness of the disorder and raise funds for research. That’s what the pumpkins are about. So far, there are 13 pumpkins, hand painted by local artists scattered throughout Upper Keys’ businesses. (Purple is the banner color of Rett Syndrome awareness). The pumpkins are sponsored by local philanthropists, painted by local artists, and the local public casts $1 “votes” to elect a winner that will be announced at an October gala. The pumpkins will be auctioned off at the event.

On July 8, the Bennett’s hosted an inaugural sponsorship soiree at Pasta Pantaleo Signature Gallery in Islamorada and local businesses stepped up to sponsor all of the 13 pumpkins by donating $350 each.

“I didn’t think that they’d all get sponsored in one night, it was amazing,” said Michelle.

More good news: Stella is doing very well.

“Stella is doing physical and occupational therapy three to five times a week. We’ll slow down if she ever shows signs of not wanting to push herself so hard but, for now, she’s fully into it. Muscle memory is really important,” said Michelle.

“I’m an educator at heart so I was looking for something to do to help. The most important part of this campaign is spreading knowledge of this disease,” said Michelle.

The gala is set for Oct. 1 at the Islander Resort in Islamorada. There will be silent and live auctions, dinner and music, and a special guest appearance by country music star Clint Black, who lost a 16-year-old niece to the disorder.

For more information about the gala, or sponsoring another pumpkin, call 305-434-5062 or visit the Facebook page by searching Purple Pumpkin Gala.

Vote today

The pumpkins are displayed at the following locations and the public is encouraged to vote with dollar bills.

Everyone Loves a Gentle Dentist

Artist: Susi Trottnow

Florida Keys Jewelry

Artist: Lisa Lee

Capital Bank, Tavernier

Artist: Carol Ross

Pasta Pantaleo Gallery (Morada Way)

Artist: Stella Bennett

Blue Marlin Jewelry

Artist: Pasta Pantaleo

Green Turtle Wine and Spirits

Artist: Stacie Krupa

Ocean Sotheby’s

Artist: Morna Strengholt

Ocean Sotheby’s Art Gallery

Artist: Michelle Lowe

Mangrove Mike’s

Artist: Wyland

Robbie’s Marina (Tim Rahn Gallery)

Artist: Barbara Weingardt

Mariners Hospital

Artist: Jason Barth

Dr. Zuba’s office

Artist: B.J. Royster

Shell World

Artist: Carmen Kelley


Rett Syndrome is a rare and random genetic mutation of the X chromosome, which almost exclusively affects girls. It strikes one out of every 10,000 to 15,000 babies worldwide regardless of race. According to, the disease causes problems in brain function that are responsible for cognitive, sensory, emotional, motor and autonomic function. These can include learning, speech, sensory sensations, mood, movement, breathing, cardiac function, and even digestion. The difficulties can appear gradually, or all at once. The diagnosis, including a prenatal diagnosis, involves a simple blood test.


Join Our Blast – Keys News Right to Your INBOX

Leave a Reply