SueB Earl sees the T-shirts from the 2011 event around town. She knows that her two children, eighth-grader Elli and sixth-grader Joci, participated in the fundraiser a year ago.
But at the time, the Community Cares 5K run, held for her benefit, was hardly her focus. She was preparing for a bone marrow transplant and in the midst of a battle for her life that was only going to get more intense.
The plain truth is, she nearly didn’t live to see this year’s event.
On Saturday a few hundred runners are expected to gather at the Durango Community Recreation Center for the third annual Community Cares 5K. This year’s beneficiary is Bruce Anderson, and the race’s subtitle is the “Run for Bruce.”
We’ll return to SueB Earl’s story in a moment. It’s one that offers hope, something that Anderson needs as he continues his battle to recover from a stroke he suffered in September.
No doubt, Anderson is frustrated to be on the receiving end of people’s generosity. During his 30-plus years in Durango, the 65-year-old has been a fixture on the giving side of the charity equation.
It’s a tough position for him, but certainly one of which he is worthy. Anderson has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, the school board, the Boys & Girls Club and as a mentor to FFA students. That just scratches the surface.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Anderson said Wednesday during a visit to his room at Four Corners Health Care Center, where he continues rehabilitation. “I can’t believe what a wonderful, caring community we have here.”
It’s been a long, difficult recovery. But he’s come a long way since the day at Four Corners Broadcasting when the chief engineer was stricken as he and boss Ward Holmes were crawling around rewiring the studio. Anderson was rushed to St. Anthony Hospital in Denver, where he spent two months before returning to Durango.
He has regained his ability to speak and to eat. He ventures out some – he rang the bell for the Salvation Army in December and watched the Snowdown Follies earlier this month. His focus now is regaining more use from the left side of his body. Each day he is off to the rehab center’s gym, which he jokingly refers to as “the torture chamber.”
Anderson has a difficult road ahead. Perhaps he can take some solace in SueB Earl’s harrowing tale.
In September 2010, doctors told Earl that she felt lousy because she had acute myeloid leukemia. She traveled to Virginia for treatment. Complications developed. A week after last year’s Community Cares 5K, dubbed the “SueB Shuffle,” she underwent a bone marrow transplant at Johns Hopkins cancer center in Baltimore, with her sister as the donor.
A few days after the transplant she became very sick, and developed veno-occlusive disease, or VOD, a liver condition that’s typically fatal. Several organs shut down. Johns Hopkins happened to be doing a drug trial for VOD and gave her the dosage. Also around this time she went on dialysis, developed blood clots and had a small stroke.
With a grim diagnosis and facing endless days of suffering, her future was uncertain.
“I pulled through it,” Earl said in an interview last week. Doctors called her “the miracle girl.”
To return to a semblance of normal took time, patience and hard work. She’s a physical therapist, so she had some insight into what it takes. After nine months on the East Coast, she returned to Durango and her family in June. She says she’s now up to 50 to 60 percent of her previous activity level. She hikes, swims, cross country skis and is planning to downhill ski in the near future.
“I didn’t ever expect I would be skiing a year ago,” the 53-year-old said. “I didn’t think I would ever be feeling this good. ... I am very happy to be where I’m at.”
Ken Flint, the Community Care’s race director, cherishes such stories. The inaugural event’s beneficiary in 2010 was Teddy Rodd, a then-10-year-old who had a tumor removed from his spine. Rodd participated along with about 300 others in last year’s event and continues to do well, Flint said.
Along with sponsors Durango Parks and Recreation and First Baptist Church, Flint created the run to help a particular person in need. This year, Anderson’s name cropped up and everyone Flint talked to agreed
“It’s nice to give back to somebody who does so much,” Flint said.
The financial bump that SueB and her husband, Jim Earl, received from last year’s run helped immensely, she said last week.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “All the community efforts put up to help me. Things are still being unveiled to me that I didn’t know about.”
Earlier this month she returned to Baltimore for an annual checkup. The future holds no guarantees, she knows all too well, but “all indices are I’m doing well.”
Being the beneficiary of the Community Cares 5K is no guarantee of a good outcome, but Teddy Rodd and SueB Earl would vouch that it doesn’t hurt.
firstname.lastname@example.org John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.