Running is respite for two Dallas Marathon moms whose sons need constant care


NS_22FETTERMANCOL05_34454984 (1)Runner Amanda Levine, 40, interacts with her 4-year-old Alex Levine, on Nov. 22, 2013 at their home in Dallas. Amanda Levine gave birth to a micro preemie son, who was 1 pound 1 ounce at birth. She nearly lost her life during labor.

For Maddie Harrison and Amanda Levine, motherhood brought more than the typical, life-changing challenges. Both faced circumstances they wouldn’t wish upon their worst enemies.

With support from family, friends and committed doctors, they have balanced the survival and development of their young sons with their own well-being.

Each embraced running as a life-affirming escape from the rigors of their daily routines. They will be among more than 20,000 runners participating in Sunday’s MetroPCS Dallas Marathon, Half Marathon and Relays. What follows are their stories.

Ks for Keegan

Maddie Harrison knows hospitals far too well.

Her 6-year-old son, Keegan, was born with a congenital heart defect, which necessitated a heart transplant when he was 7 days old. His health is further compromised by an autoimmune disorder, which has caused multiple organ failures and left his body defenseless when sick.

His life has been a series of emergencies with an uncertain future. He requires constant care and therapy, weekly out-patient visits and frequent emergency room trips.

“As dicey as things are, he’s really been able to fight well with the drugs he’s been on and with the team surrounding him at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and Children’s Medical Center,” said Harrison, 33, who is also mom to 3-year-old Audrey.

Maryland Punaro, the head of arthritis and rheumatology at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, helped arrange for Keegan’s full genetic code to be mapped out in hopes of understanding what’s causing his immune system to go haywire. The process began 14 months ago and is expected to take two years.

“Doctors believe Keegan isn’t the first child to have this,” Harrison said. “The reason they haven’t known about it is because kids pass away from it. Keegan has made it this far is because he’s been on massive amounts of immune suppression since he was 5 days old.”

For Harrison, who played lacrosse at Baylor University, running is her refuge. She grew up running on the trails in Plano and ran her first half marathon during law school at Vanderbilt University.

When Keegan was about 4, she had one of those days where she needed a break. Her mom came over to relieve her, and she went out for a run.

“I’ve managed to keep it up and make it a priority,” Harrison said. “It’s a lot of getting up before the kids and before [husband] Gray leaves for work.”

Harrison trained for the 2012 Dallas Marathon, but an Achilles tendon injury sidelined her. Since recovering, she’s completed 12 events to prepare for Sunday and to raise money and awareness for organ donation through Ks for Keegan, an informal running group she created.

Most days, she runs through her Plano neighborhood and on the trails that pass by Children’s Medical Center at Legacy, 2.5-miles from her house.

Harrison has a photo of the facility on her Facebook page with a comment that sums up her existence: “Grateful for every day I run past it and not to it.”

Never giving up

The joys of pregnancy turned into a battle for survival when Amanda Levine was five months pregnant.

Her body began to swell, and her blood pressure skyrocketed. Doctors diagnosed her with early onset of preeclampsia on March 15, 2009. They told Levine and her husband, Adam, that they would do everything they could to save the baby, but Levine was the viable patient.

“They took me to the brink of liver and kidney failure,” Levine said. “They told us every 12 hours that I could give him would increase his chances of survival a full percentage point.”

Three days later, Alex was born at 1 pound, 1 ounce.

When she delivered, Levine’s fingers looked like sausages. Doctors removed 30 pounds of fluid.

Alex came home on May 5, 2010 — long after his due date of July 10, 2009. Every time his parents had prepared to bring him, another emergency erupted.

“It was a giant roller-coaster ride,” Levine recalled. “It was life and death every single time. His system was so compromised that anything could cause it to be off.”

He came home with a tracheotomy, a ventilator, a feeding tube and round-the-clock nursing care. Over time, the focus has shifted from survival to development. Now 41/2, the current emphasis is training him to chew.

Levine, who lives in Dallas, didn’t realize it, but she had been living in a state of shock for more than 400 days of twice daily trips to the hospital and working full time at L3 Communications in Greenville. With Alex home, Levine took time off from her job to manage the nurses, therapists and medical suppliers.

While home, she caught episodes of The Biggest Loser. If 400-pound contestants could run a mile, she could, too. Levine began run-walking on the treadmill at the gym. Soon after, she joined a Run On 5K class and completed her first 5K in February 2011. By year’s end, she finished the White Rock Marathon’s half in 2 hours, 39 minutes. She’s since done 11 halves with a personal best of 2:20.

Over time, her coaches began to rely on her ability to hold a consistent pace and to help other runners. With their encouragement, she became an Road Runners Club of America certified running coach and now assists with Run On’s half marathon program.

She trains at 5:15 a.m. She appreciates the sense of peace she feels and doesn’t worry about taking time away from family or work.

“I get to be me when I run,” she said. “I’m not mom. I’m not an employee. My expectations are my own. When I get into a race, I have to dig deep. There’s a feeling of accomplishment to not quit and not give up no matter what happens, which is kind of what happened with Alex. We never gave up.”


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source: Dallas News by Debbie Fetterman


Categories: Runners, Sports

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