Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.
Fri, 17 Sep 1999 12:24:18 -0400
Re-birthdayA habit of long standing is to dedicate my marathons to someone special. The events make such big demands on my limited training that I seek outside help.
Sometimes I've worn the person's name on a shirt. Lately I've penned it on the underside of my cap bill.
In a marathon last February at Las Vegas I carried the letters "LCH" and the numbers "2-16-83." The initials are my daughter Leslie's.
The date isn't her birthday, as she was born the previous September. February 16th is her RE-birthday.
I was reborn as a runner on that same date in 1973. A damaged heel, which had slowed my running for a year and stopped it for the past several months, was fixed surgically on February 16th. That repair job has given me another 26 years of running, including two dozen marathons.
By a quirk of the calendar, Leslie went into surgery 10 years to the day after mine. Hers trivialized mine.
She was born with Down's syndrome, which was shock enough. Then we learned that she also had a heart defect common to Down's babies. She was born big, at almost eight pounds, but gained little weight in her early months.
Surgery was risky, we were told. But without it she wouldn't survive to see her first birthday.
She weighed only 10 pounds when we checked her into a Portland hospital for her operation. She nearly died there when her heart stopped in the recovery room. Doctors wouldn't let her go, ripping open the sutures and applying direct cardiac massage to restart the tiny heart.
Her mother and I were allowed to see Leslie for the first time in the ICU that evening. Her surgeon said, "She's quite unstable now, and the next few hours will be critical."
We were also told that she was too young and too drugged to realize what was happening to her. But she was awake, barely visible among the technology, when we entered her room. The readouts immediately began to normalize when she saw faces she recognized.
Complications followed. The new heart valve chewed up her red blood cells, leaving her anemic and requiring transfusions for several months. One came before and another after her first airplane ride, to the 1983 Boston Marathon.
Leslie fought past her slow start. She learned to sit up, then to walk and eventually to run. She now knows some reading and writing, and while not speaking she's fluent in sign language.
Doctors said in 1983 that she probably would need twice-a-year checkups for the rest of her life. She might require another heart operation on reaching her teens.
We now celebrate twice each year, on her birthday in September and her re-birthday in February. She hasn't yet needed more surgery, goes years between checkups, and so far the report is that her repaired heart is working fine. She doesn't know the reason for the miracle scar down the center of her chest.
Whenever I felt disheartened during my last marathon on Leslie's re-birthday, I thought of her and how much tougher her road has been.