A productive cycle: $75,000 for sick kids

Courtesy of Patti Zink

Seven-year-old JT Zink, center, celebrates after riding 28 miles on his bicycle in the Courage Classic in Summit County with the Durango Derailers. Team Captain Dr. Kelly Miller, from Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, and Les Lee, philanthropy director with Children’s Hospital Colorado, the beneficiary of the classic, join in the fun. JT, the son of Shana and Brian Zink, received life-saving care at the hospital.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: finding out their child is gravely ill. For local families facing this challenge, Children’s Hospital Colorado provides treatment, often life-saving treatment, for Southwest Colorado kids.

Over three days last weekend, 124 locals calling themselves the Durango Derailers rode their bicycles 157 miles in Summit County. Their goal? To raise money to help families who incur significant travel expenses to take their children to our state capital for treatment.

Mercury generously sponsored the team and supported several employees on their rides, paying the registration for the first 100 team members and picking up the tab for their welcome banquet at Copper Mountain, too.

The team, in its sixth year and bigger and better than ever, has raised more than $75,000 this year for the patient assistance fund, after setting a goal of $50,000. If you want to contribute to the Durango Derailers fund, visit www.courageclassic.com to keep pushing them farther past that goal. ($100,000 has a nice ring, doesn’t it?)

Medical expenses are the single biggest cause of families declaring bankruptcy, and it makes sense. Trying to keep the home front going, pay travel expenses and meet insurance co-pays (if the family has insurance) that can run into thousands of dollars, while probably missing a lot of work, is an impossible juggling act.

Many people on the Durango team were there because they’re in the medical field or believe it’s a good cause, but many more were there for personal reasons.

Not only did team captain Dr. Kelly Miller do her pediatrics training at Children’s Hospital, she has referred hundreds of patients there. And her daughter, Hannah, is here today because of life-saving heart surgery performed there.

For the Zink family, it was all about 7-year-old JT Zink, who, as a baby, contracted an uncommon form of pneumococcal meningitis and was airlifted to Children’s. It took five weeks of hospitalization to bring him back to health, beating the odds as only 30 percent of children under the age of 1 who contract this strain survive. And in a further miracle, JT had no deficits or lasting complications from the bout. Less than 1 percent of survivors so young – he was 7 months – who recover from this form of meningitis do not have any lasting health complications.

JT’s grandparents Ed and Patti Zink and his dad, Brian, all rode the full event. JT rode 28 miles during the family ride Sunday. He’s from a cycling family, all right, if he’s covering that distance at 7.

While his family was there, JT had a question for his mother, Shana Zink.

“So Mom, if Children’s Hospital had not helped me, would I be died?” he asked.

Somehow, his mom managed to hold it together and tell him very calmly, “Yes, son, you probably would have.”

I saw other family names I recognized from the Durango Derailers team on the Courage Classic website, names of families that have driven over the passes countless times to get their children to Denver.

I should also mention that a number of specialists from Children’s Hospital either come down to Durango periodically or do teleconferencing consults for individual cases.

Sometimes we feel pretty isolated from the Front Range, but this is an example of how we’re all connected.

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The last of the July birthday greetings go to Carolyn Brown, Merrilee Fleming, Carla Branson, Carol Gunderson, Wanda Ellingson, Lea Leach, Caroni Adams, Emily Jordan, Levi Tichi, Betty Carroll, Janey Silver, Kelly Somsen, Scott Atchison, Sheena Carswell and Hal Emrich.

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I’m thrilled to report that it’s “after the rain comes the rainbow” for Chris and Shelly Aaland. They wanted to stay in Durango after leaving Fort Lewis College, and they’ve made it happen.

Shelly Aaland is in her second month at Mercury in data entry with a sales team, which she’s finding a fun new challenge.

On Tuesday, Chris started what he calls his “dream job,” as membership drive coordinator at public radio station KSUT-FM in Ignacio. He has volunteered for years at KSUT – in fact, he thought he’d retire and try to work there part time in some distant future – so he’s working with colleagues and friends on something he really holds dear.

I’m a big believer in change and new things getting the juices flowing again for adults, when it’s so easy to fall into a rut, and that’s clearly what’s happening for the Aalands.

And the cherry on top of the sundae is that now they both have more time to spend with their 6-year-old son, Otto, who was a nonstop motion machine before he learned to ride a bicycle a couple of weeks ago. They’re going to have to hustle to keep up with him now that he’s got wheels!

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Amazingly enough, this item doesn’t include a single thing about kids on bikes.

Scarlett Sieber, the daughter of Durango residents Brad and Charlotte Sieber, had a big day at the United Nations on July 12.

Scarlett Sieber was one of 500 youth delegates selected from thousands of applicants, she thinks because of her involvement with One Young World, to help edit and present The Youth Resolution to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Malala Day.

Malala Yousfrazi, in case you haven’t been reading the news, was the 14-year-old girl in Pakistan whose outspoken support for education for girls apparently was threatening to the Taliban, so they attempted to assassinate her. That turns out to be a good way to take a strong voice and turn it into a shout heard around the world.

July 12 was Malala’s 16th birthday, and she was at the U.N. for the event, making her first public speaking engagement since the shooting.

The resolution calls for a push to get all the children in the world who have been denied access to an education – estimates range from 57 to 61 million children thus denied, many of them girls – into a classroom by 2015. It’s a big, aggressive goal, but as Paulette Church, former executive director of the Adult Education Center, once told me, “Education is the only thing that has ever broken the cycle of poverty.”

Scarlett Sieber, who’s in her mid-20s, grew up in Durango, attending St. Columba School and Durango High School, where she played varsity basketball for 2½ years. She went on to graduate from Fordham University in New York City.

It will be interesting to see where she goes next on this daunting challenge.

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Celebrating their anniversaries during the dog days of summer (so named because that’s when the Dog Star, also called Sirius, a binary star in Canis Major, rises) are Harlan and Bonna Steinle, John and Judy Peel, Dan and Judy Harris, Paul and Cathy Duggan, Tom and Diane Higgins, Zack and Kelsey Esgar and Jerry and Carol Hanes.

Belated congratulations go to Tom and Missy Carter. I totally spaced on putting it in on the right date, but I hope you didn’t space celebrating!

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