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Race creator has hope to spare

MY VIEW • Spurred by sons, Peggy Padden’s a fundraising wonder

Jake Shearer felt weak in 2003. Blood tests revealed that he had myelodysplasia syndrome — a rare condition marked by an inefficient production of blood cells and often a precursor to acute myelogenous leukemia. He needed a bone marrow transplant. It is difficult to match bone marrow. The chances of someone from the general population being a match are 1 in 20,000 to 50,000. The chances that a sibling will have matching bone marrow are one in four. Jake’s mother, Peggy Padden, was optimistic that one of Jake’s brothers would be a match. When she learned that her youngest son was a perfect match, she said, “It was a dream come true.” But as the date for the transplant approached, doctors noticed irregularities with the youngest boy’s blood. Testing suggested that he, too, had myelodysplasia syndrome. It was unlikely that they would have the same rare disease. An underlying cause was sought and soon discovered: Fanconi anemia. Very quickly, Peggy went from thinking she had a cure for her sick son to finding out that two of her sons had what amounted to a death sentence. Fanconi anemia is a recessive genetic condition, which means that Peggy and her husband, Glen Shearer, are unaffected carriers. Their recessive genes were passed on to Jake and their youngest son. Their middle son ended up with a dominant gene and does not have the disease but is a carrier for it. Statistically, one out of four children of unaffected carriers should be affected. That Peggy and Glen’s children went two out of three is just bad genetic luck. That summer, Jake received a transplant from an unrelated donor, but he never really recovered. In early September he had a serious infection and was taken back to the hospital, where he would spend his last seven weeks. He was 21 years old. After Jake’s death, Peggy devoted her life to trying to save her youngest son. Late in 2004, she decided to put together a race as a fundraiser. Peggy became a one-woman race-planner extraordinaire. She wanted her race to fall early on the running calendar. She also knew where she wanted to hold her race: on Portland’s waterfront. The rest, though, she didn’t know, and would discover along the way. Like: How do you put a race together? It turns out you have to get permission from the city to hold a race. It also turns out that that’s a bit of an elaborate process, involving various forms, fees, permits and approvals. Next, you have to get special event insurance. After those big-ticket logistics, there are the minor ones that you never see coming but that must fall into place for a race to be run smoothly. If you’ve ever wondered who organizes the fundraising, who handles advertising, who measures and remeasures the course route with the odometer on her bicycle — well, in this case, it’s Peggy Padden. The race drew 234 runners and raised $12,000 for the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund. In succeeding years, with mounting experience and 52 weeks • which to prepare for each race, Peggy has grown the Valentine Fanconi Anemia 5K Run/Walk substantially. She has banners now, ads in running magazines, a Web site (www.valentine5k.com) and, most important, word of mouth. Before the 2007 race Peggy contacted Foot Traffic. The store agreed to help and has given the race a more professional feel, not to mention prizes from their stores. Grant High School offered its measuring wheel, so Peggy doesn’t need her bike anymore. The second and third races had more 500 runners each and raised $20,000 and $30,000, respectively — 100 percent of which went to research. At this year’s race, which starts at 8 a.m. Sunday under the Morrison Bridge, there will be free testing for bone marrow registry. Peggy hopes to draw 700-plus runners. That Peggy’s total raised from the race could pass $100,000 this year is beyond her wildest financial dreams. But Peggy Padden has bigger dreams: for her youngest son, who is still without a matching donor. He’s healthy now, showing no symptoms, and with luck will stay that way long enough for a major breakthrough in treatment. Peggy Padden has hope. Scott F. Parker is a graduate student in book publishing at Portland State University. He lives in North Portland.