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Leukemia marathon motivates dental students (3/31/97)

Kathy Hurst was a freshman at The University of Texas Health Science Center's Dental School and her friend, Tara Rios, was in her second year when Kathy's father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

"I'd never heard of multiple myeloma," Kathy said. "My family called in August and gave me the news, and I talked to my dad and to the dean at the dental school. We decided - I was really busy in school - that it would be best if I waited until the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday to take time off. I planned to go home then, and spend some quality time with my dad."

"The following Friday I tried to call my father but kept getting the answering machine. I was worried because I knew he was going to talk to his doctor that day about a bone marrow transplant," Kathy continued. "All day long I tried to reach him, but never did. That night I arrived home about 11 p.m. and found numerous calls on the answering machine from my mother and brother. Mom said, 'I'm working on getting tickets for you. There is a flight at 2 a.m.,' and I knew something was up."

Kathy's father had gone into a coma. "He was only 50 when he was diagnosed," she said, "and still reasonably healthy. This was completely unexpected."

"I flew home to be with dad, and my family. After a full week at home, nothing had changed. Dad was still in a coma and his condition was still the same. I'd missed some major tests at school, and was concerned about that. Finally, I decided to return to school."

On Labor Day weekend Kathy's mother called to tell her that her father had just died. "We are talking a span of about a month," Kathy said. After the funeral, she stayed in New Hampshire for a few days, then returned to San Antonio and dental school.

"I had missed my first gross test, and my first anatomy test - everything- it was very traumatic. That was a hard year," Kathy said. "But I wanted to be a dentist and I knew I was doing the one thing that was most important to me, so I stayed with it - although I ended up taking my first year over again."

"Kathy contacted me about joining the Team In Training program and running in a marathon to raise money for kids who are fighting leukemia," Tara said. "We talked about how much time it would take to train, and to go to Anchorage to be in the marathon, but in the end we decided to do it.

"The interesting thing is, the Leukemia Society connects you with a patient, and you get to know not only the child you're running for, but his family, too," Tara said. "It's a fun thing."

Tara and Kathy are referring to the Leukemia Society of America's Team in Training program, in which long distance runners are paired with patients diagnosed with blood-related cancers. Team in Training helps runners by providing a trainer so runners can compete in marathons; in return, each runner agrees to raise $3,500 for leukemia research and patient care. Tara Rios is now a fourth-year student at the dental school and Kathy Hurst is in her second year. They are training to compete in the Midnight Sun Marathon, to be held on June 21 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Kathy is paired with 7-year-old Travis and Tara runs for David, also 7 years old. Travis has been fighting leukemia since age two and is still undergoing treatment; David was only recently diagnosed.

"We wear a metal wrist band with our patient's name on it, along with his prognosis. We meet the patients and talk to them, even go to family parties," said Tara. "Travis and his family have become my friends. It's really a neat thing, and we are helping people.

"Strange, training for this marathon not only got me enthusiastic about running and about fighting leukemia," she continued, "it also renewed my enthusiasm for dentistry. After four years in school, I was a becoming a little weary. Training has changed all that."

"This motivates you," Kathy said. "And helps you become a whole person."

The Midnight Sun Marathon, a 26.2 mile course, begins at midnight. "You know, in Anchorage in June it's still daylight at midnight - actually, 24 hours a day," Kathy said.

"We've received donations from both individuals and corporations," said Tara. "But we have a long way to go before we reach our financial goal."

Anyone who wishes to donate may call Michelle Kokotajlo at the Leukemia Society, (210) 377-1775.

Contact: Jan Elkins (210) 567-2570