RussVegas – Where Everyone’s a Winner

March 1, 2015 | By More

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It begins with a starter pistol.  A single shot into the air signaling to walkers and runners it’s time to begin their foot race through beautiful downtown Russellville.  People of all ages will gather this April 10th and 11th to raise money for Circle of Friends and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  This is the second annual RussVegas Half Marathon brought to you by the many volunteers at the RussVegas Foot Race Foundation.

The idea for the RussVegas Foot Race Foundation began while Chris Olsen was running.  He was participating in a half marathon raising funds for St. Jude Research Hospital, and began wondering just how he could bring a similar event to our area.  He gave Christie Graham, with Russellville Advertising and Promotions, a call and pitched the idea, called a few friends to recruit them to volunteer, and the rest as they say, is history.  A Board of Directors was formed and met every month.  They met with local officials, police, fire and EMS.  They also formed an advisory board, recruited volunteers, ordered medals, planned routes, addressed safety issues and signed up runners.  This is of course only a few steps of the many it takes to plan an event like this, and hundreds of volunteer hours will be spent reviewing and organizing, making sure this event offers everyone in the River Valley a chance to spend a beautiful spring day with like-minded friends and neighbors raising money for a worthy cause.

Local resident and avid runner Angela Beyette and I spoke at length about her love of running and last years’ event. According to her, RussVegas is the place to be. Angela ran her first 5k in 1995, but it really became one of her favorite pastimes three years ago after signing up with the Women Can Run Clinics in Russellville. To date, she has participated in 13 half marathons (13.1 miles), numerous 5k’s, and several marathons (26.2 miles), raising funds for several different children’s organizations.  I asked Angela what she thought made the RussVegas Half Marathon event so special. She replied very simply “The community.  All along the route, there are people lined up to cheer for you.  People you have never met are there to wave as you pass by, to encourage you when you are tired, and to stand with your family and friends as you cross the finish line.  Knowing that we all came together to support each other and raise money for children is an amazing feeling.” The passion she has for participating in these events and help others in the process is contagious, and I personally look forward to cheering her on when she laces up her sneakers to cross the finish line in April.>>

Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) is the only pediatric medical facility in Arkansas, and is one of the largest in the United States. The ACH website states the campus spans nearly 30 city blocks and currently houses 370 beds. They have a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 95 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and employ an additional 4,400 employees. Children from all over the United States come to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for treatment. I encourage you to visit their website at archildren.org and read some of the patient stories.  These children are amazing.  They have dealt with some of the worst life has to offer, and have come out smiling.  I recently had the pleasure of visiting with 2 of these patients and their mothers.

Zola Prati is a busy 3 year old girl with bouncy brown hair, bright eyes and energy for days. She loves looking at books and playing with stuffed animals.  Not so long ago, Zola was not this picture of health.  When she was 17 months old, her mother Brandy noticed that Zola had a rather ‘round’ belly.  She had been a cute chunky baby, but as she was getting more active and thinning up a bit as busy little ones do, her belly remained distended.

Brandy took her to their family physician and he informed her that Zola had an enlarged liver and she needed to have an ultrasound immediately. They went to Arkansas Children’s Hospital that day, and upon receiving the results of the ultrasound and blood work, the nurse told Brandy that Zola was being admitted. Her parents were in shock.  She was such a healthy baby, had never even had a cold or an ear infection, and she was being admitted into the hospital, to the Oncology floor.  Zola was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare cancer which occurs in 1.6 of every 1,000,000 children a year, and makes up only 1% of childhood cancers. She has had more tests, CT scans, ultrasounds and x-rays than her mother can remember. Chemotherapy treatments made her unable to eat or drink without vomiting, and for fear of germs and illness, unable to directly interact with family and loved ones.  She required several blood transfusions during her treatment, and in June of 2013 received a liver transplant.  To look at her, you would never guess what this adorable bundle of energy has been through.

Jeffery Smith has an incredibly infectious smile.  He is a 17 year old Junior at Clarksville High School and is on the swim team. Sounds normal for a teenage boy, right?  Jeffrey is definitely not the average teenage boy.  At age 12, he was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease.  Jeffery’s mom, Cheryl, had taken him to his pediatrician after noticing some odd bruising on his legs.  Jeffrey had also been feeling quite tired, and Cheryl figured he was anemic. Dr. McCraw ran some blood tests and then repeated the tests to make sure they were correct. Jeffrey’s kidneys were barely functioning at all. His blood pressure was 181/136. The toxins in his bloodstream measured at 119 instead of the normal range of 10. He was a very ill young man.  By midnight, Jeffrey had undergone surgery at Arkansas Children’s Hospital to place a temporary hemodialysis catheter into his leg.  He also received several blood transfusions and began hemodialysis. A biopsy of his kidneys showed there was severe scarring, and his kidneys had actually quit growing long ago, and were unable to keep up with his growing body as he got older.  This first stay at ACH lasted 3 long weeks. During that time Jeffrey had several surgeries and along with his family he learned how to care for himself so he could go home.  His diet was severely restricted and his fluid intake could not go above 40 ounces in a 24 hour period. He had to take numerous pills and shots, do daily blood draws, and take care of the exit site where the Tenckhoff was placed for his dialysis.

A year passed by and Jeffrey was finally well enough to be placed on the transplant list. On November 11th the following year they received the call, there was a kidney for Jeffrey.  The news spread so fast the family could barely keep up with the calls and well wishes. The surgery went well, and he was on his way to a full recovery. Jeffery had persevered and been through so much, they named his kidney Percy. On November 21st, he lost Percy. He was bleeding internally and was rushed into emergency surgery. Dr. Blazack, Jeffrey’s Nephrologist, had heard the news while he was away for the Thanksgiving Holiday.  He drove 9 hours to get back to ACH to be with Jeffrey and his family.  On December 20th, they finally went back home. A short time later, Jeffrey developed a severe infection in his leg that required yet another long stay and surgery at ACH.

Jeffrey received his second kidney, named ‘The Blaze’, on August 1st of 2014 and he is doing well.>>
He is back at school, on the swim team and even received his lifeguard certification. He and his family cannot say enough great things about Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  The doctors and staff worked together to save Jeffrey’s life over and over again, while also making sure his family was taken care of. Jeffrey told me that he is sure God has a plan for his life, and he hopes part of that plan will allow him to be a pilot for Angel 1 at ACH.

In its first year, over 1000 runners from 23 states participated in the RussVegas Half Marathon. Through the combined efforts of the volunteers, walkers and runners, The RussVegas Foot Race Foundation was able to present the River Valley Circle of Friends with a check for $19,200.00 to be utilized for children and families in need at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  Without such charitable donations, organizations like the River Valley Circle of Friends would not be able to offer their assistance to these families. These funds assist families in paying bills at home along with providing gas money and funds for other essentials while staying with their loved ones at the hospital. The volunteers with River Valley Circle of Friends and the RussVegas Foot Race Foundation contribute countless hours in service to others in our community. This year’s event will span over two days and include a kid’s mile, 5k glow run, car show, live music, spirit stations, vendor booths and great food. For information on how you can volunteer your time or register for the RussVegas Half Marathon, please visit their website at www.russvegashalf.com.l

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