Saturday, August 16, 2014

More Than a Drop in the Bucket

If you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge that’s sweeping the country, you either live under a rock or don’t belong to any social media platforms. In that case, you won’t see this post either.

As I watched my Facebook wall fill up with videos from this challenge, I kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be called out. Not because I didn’t think it was for a good cause, but because I’m a sissy with cold water. I can barely get in a pool if the water temperature is below 85 degrees. Just sticking my toe in the cold Atlantic gives me frostbite. Even in the summer I still take a scorching hot shower. Yep...a bit of a cold water sissy.

Anyway, Jason was the first in our house to be challenged. I feared he would call my name, but he knew I didn’t want to, so being the thoughtful (or fearful) husband that he is, he didn’t do it. Then Abby was called out by a friend. She wanted to nominate me, but I was sly and convinced her to choose her friends. But then my luck ran out. I was nominated by my friend, Jill. I completed the challenge and screamed as that icy water dripped down my back, causing instant hypothermia. After a hot shower and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee to warm up my shivery bones, I made my donation to Simple.

Like with most everything today, some people have tried to put a negative light on this. I’ve come across a number of articles that try to put an unfavorable spin on the whole thing. Really? What’s the point? If someone truly doesn’t want to do the challenge, they are not required to do so. If they don’t complete the challenge they are supposed to donate $100. However, there are no ice bucket police going around arresting those who don’t donate. The challenge and donating are done by choice.

There really isn’t a negative to this event. For those who weren’t familiar with the neurodegenerative disease known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, there is now more awareness. Also, as of today, the ALS Association has surpassed $10 million in “ice bucket” donations. This provides funds to help fight this incurable disease that usually takes the life of a person within 2 to 5 years of being diagnosed. In addition to these important reasons, it seems people are having fun doing it. Awareness, raising money, and fun...hmmm...don’t see the issue.

If ALS isn’t what you’re interested in supporting, choose something that is meaningful to you. Run a 5K to raise money for cancer research. Join a walk to support the National Kidney Foundation. Or just make a cash donation to another foundation that is important to you or someone in your life. It’s up to you!

So while I didn’t necessarily love the icy water pouring down my body, I did like the overall premise of this challenge. It was started with good intentions and it appears to have made a positive impact for the ALS Association. Laughing along with these videos and having fun with friends and family seems like a pretty good side effect to the cause.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Life…A Race Worth Winning

Today was the 17th annual Beach to Beacon 10K road race. The course begins just past Crescent Beach and ends at the scenic Portland Headlight…hence the name Beach to Beacon. It is a huge event, but runs like a well-oiled machine. The last 3 miles or so of the race are quite hilly, so it is a challenge. However, not nearly as much of a challenge as getting a coveted bib for the race. On that day in March, at 7:00 a.m. when the registration opens, there are fingers frantically typing all over the U.S. in hopes of getting into the race. It’s a day of joy or disappointment for runners.

Portland Headlight
Photo Courtesy of Kim Huchel

As with most races, I want to do well, but I’m realistic and know that I’m not the world’s fastest runner, nor do I train like one. I run regularly, but I’m not a die-hard running fanatic. I don’t do speed work, fartleks (yep, that’s a real word), or weight training. I just run for exercise (and so I can eat dessert). However, I have finished every race I’ve done and I’ve never been last. A typical goal is to finish on two feet and not be last. While it is disappointing that today was my slowest B2B time yet, I ran the whole way and did finish on two feet ahead of thousands of others.

What is really more important than my time is the group of people I ran with today. I was fortunate to be part of Team BlankenSwift. Last year my friend and running partner, Patty, learned of a young man, Daavid, who was diagnosed with a fast progressing kidney disease. Patty and I were in Trader Joe’s when we learned of the severity of his condition. Patty didn’t know this man, but had previously worked with his mother. As we strolled past the cucumbers, Patty said, “I think I could donate a kidney.”

And the rest is history. Unbeknownst to Daavid’s family, Patty went through all the testing to determine if she was a match. Amazingly, she was. It was then that she informed Daavid’s mother of what she had been doing and she and Daavid met for the first time.

Patty’s one stipulation for the kidney donation was that she wanted to do the Beach to Beacon first. She had her bib and felt that training all summer would keep her in tiptop shape, which would help with the recovery process. So last year, as we ran the race, Daavid and his family cheered Patty on. Five days after the race, Patty’s kidney was transplanted into Daavid.

It’s incredible what a difference a year makes. Last year Daavid was doing dialysis multiple days a week to stay alive. He stood on the sidelines a sick man. This year he ran the race beside his donor and they crossed the finish line hand in hand. A great moment.

Team Blankenswift Before the Race
Back Row: Patty (donor), Daavid (recipient)

In addition to being impressed with Patty’s selfless act, I also have a personal interest in kidney disease and kidney donors. Polycystic kidney disease, a disease for which there is no cure, runs in my family. My grandfather had it and was on dialysis for years prior to his death. My mother has it and had a kidney transplant in 2006 from a cadaver donor after being on dialysis. My brother and I also have it. There is a 50/50 chance we have passed it on to our own children, but they have not been tested for it yet.

My kidney function has declined at this point. I’m considered to be in stage 3 kidney failure. It is estimated that I have 30% of my kidney function left. The reality is that I, too, will need a transplant in the future. My hope is that I can avoid dialysis and will be able to get a kidney from a living donor.

Much of what Patty has been doing since giving her kidney to Daavid is trying to spread the word about living donors. She recovered from surgery and is living a normal life with her one remaining kidney. While waiting for the race to start today, people came up to Patty and Daavid and congratulated them on their story. One woman approached them and said she was donating one of her kidneys to a friend on Tuesday. With their story being in the local news recently, it makes people more aware of what they can do to help save a life.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are currently over 122, 000 people in the U.S. waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Of those, over 100,000 are in need of kidneys. Other facts:
  • Nearly 2,500 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month
  • 14 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant
  • Last year over 3,000 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant

With more people like Patty, fewer people will spend years waiting for a transplant and hopefully the number of people who die while waiting for a kidney will decline. Patty and Daavid, who were strangers a little more than a year ago, now have an amazing friendship because of Patty’s lifesaving gift.

So, rather than the old pick-up line of asking, "What's your sign?", I might just ask you about your blood type. If you’re an A or an O, I may keep you in mind.

Team Blankenswift After the Race

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Daavid and Patty's Stories:

Living Donors Info