Friday, August 30, 2013

14th Event of 2013: The Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon PLUS My Cousin's first 5K

NOTE: I apologize for the long delay in posting this entry. I took advantage of the canceled Pittsburgh race to schedule 2014 planning meetings and also to catch up on much needed household chores over the last few weeks. I'm now back 'online' and catching up on numerous emails, phone calls and prepping for the East Coast Swing of the Rock 'n Roll half marathon circuit. On that note, I must get this entry posted before Sunday's running of the Virginia Beach RnR Half Marathon!

The Biggest Loser RunWalk: Washington, DC

Saturday, July 13th: 

I left Rockaway, NJ yesterday where I had been in meetings with the national Allard team all week to fly to Washington, DC to support my cousin in her first ever run/walk event. My sister Maria met me at the airport--the first time I'd seen her since February. She drove down from Baltimore to help me cheer for Sandy in tomorrow's race. We're staying at Dad and Suz's house but sadly, they are in the U.P. of Michigan this week visiting the places where my dad spent his entire youth.

First stop, food! We met Sandy at a restaurant near her new apartment.

Sandy has great taste! You'll meet her later, for now all I can think about is eating.

I ordered grilled asparagus, arugula salad and homemade lentil patty w/beets and goat cheese--yum!
Okay, so I should have taken a photo of Sandy and Maria at dinner but I was too focused on my meal and on catching up with both of them. Sandy just recently moved into her very first apartment, living in DC now after graduating from Haverford in Philadelphia last year, and I haven't seen her since February. While I haven't physically seen her since then, it was at that Rock 'n Roll DC race where Sandy got the idea to become a runner herself, and I've been her "virtual coach" as she's tackled this challenge. Tonight I was getting caught up in the details of her training progress... you'll meet her tomorrow.

Sunday, July 14th:

When Sandy decided she was serious about becoming a runner, I set her up with a program similar to the "Couch Potato to 5K" training plans. I wanted her to start slowly and set attainable goals to ensure she stayed healthy throughout the process. It's been such fun to be a part of her progress! Sandy has taken the training very seriously and today is the culmination of several months of hard work. She chose the Biggest Loser Inaugural 5K RunWalk as her first event and I am so proud to be here to support her.

Sandy broke a promise she made to me when she was 8 years old, which was "never to grow taller than me". Oh well, I guess you can't trust an 8-year-old. Here she is an hour before the race--ready to prove her mettle.

All smiles before the run!

My mom's brother, Sandy's dad and also my Uncle Dan poses with Sandy before her first race.

Maria and I couldn't resist having fun with our Cuz... this is our race sign for the day. Before you think this was mean, let me tell you that 1) Sandy broke her promise and got taller than me and 2) Sandy has a fantastically wicked sense of humor so this is right up her alley.  And truthfully, the sign turned out to be a hit with all the runners in front of Sandy at each spot along the 5K... everyone wanted to meet her and congratulate her at the finish line.

The two most qualified sign engineers, Uncle Dan and Maria, work to make sure the sign is aerodynamic and sound before the start of the race.

There she is!! We were worried she might be nervous or anxious but at mile 1 she's already projecting the Runner's High. Way to go, Cuz!

That's her in the middle row, far right, sprinting through the final mile of the 5K. Wow, she's become a serious athlete in the last 5 months...


Sandy meets Dan Evans, winner of the Biggest Loser Season 5. Dan and his mom are responsible for this series of races, promoting fitness for adults and for kids across the country. Dan has been an inspiration to so many, including my cousin, and today he gets to see the fruits of his efforts. Thanks, Dan, for encouraging all of us to get off the couch and keep moving!

Two of my favorite athletes.

No more Couch Potato for this runner. Guess what her extended goal is? She's going to join me in Philadelphia to run her first ever HALF MARATHON in 9 weeks...yay!! 

First race bib, first medal, first Biggest Loser autograph. Nice haul for a day's work.

Maria needed to stretch after her long day of playing pit crew and cheerleader. Sandy indulges her with Zen support.
One last photo before we go in search of food.

Silly just seems to run in the family.
After a celebratory brunch with Sandy, Maria and Uncle Dan it was back to the airport for me. I have meetings set for tomorrow in Greensboro, Maria has a trip overseas to pack for and Sandy... Well, Sandy now has 9 long weeks of training to add to the last 3 months in preparation for her Half in Philly!

Sandy, I am so proud of you. Congratulations on a great run today, but especially for your focus and determination in your training. I'm glad it's not a secret anymore!! You ROCK.

Monday, July 15th:

I'm back at home and get to see the A-Team in person for a change. The A-Team is my affectionate nickname for the incredible group of women who run my Get Back UP and TeamUP campaign programs. We rarely have an opportunity to meet in person since everyone travels so much, but the planets have aligned for our 2013 6-month review agenda.

At the offices of Bouvier Kelly agency, from left to right: Liz Summers, Ashley Watkins and Jennifer Lassiter. Have I mentioned how amazing and talented (and patient!) these women are?!

Jenn and Jess Politano are already strategizing for the rest of the year. Jess and Ashley are new to the team this year but they each jumped in with both feet from the very start and are now indispensable.

Denny Kelly, the leader of the PR team, clearly is passionate about her projects.  :-)
Truthfully, I cannot say enough about how much the BKI team does on behalf of our mission...the media success we've had over the last 18 months is all because of their efforts. Not only that, they are all beautiful, intelligent, caring, witty and fierce professionals and I am so grateful we're all on the same side!
14th event of 2013: Rock 'n Roll Chicago's Half Marathon

Thursday, July 18th:

A short week of meetings at home and now I'm off to Chicago for Sunday's Rock N Roll Half Marathon. I spend the first afternoon working in the hotel room and preparing for a BUSY day tomorrow. Rick Lusiak, the Allard rep for the Chicago area, is picking me up at 6:00am for a long day of visiting O&P's, PTs and MD's in our mission to raise awareness within the professional community.

I made my sign tonight so I can bring it with me as we meet with all the medical professionals tomorrow.
A perfect evening in the Windy City, I opt to walk from my hotel to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

My meal was fabulous: Sashimi grade tuna over avocado slices with a ginger-soy dipping sauce accompanied by a caramelized-onion/raspberry/goat cheese salad.
Friday, July 19th:

I was up at 5:00a.m. and on the road with Rick before 6:00 a.m.  I knew today was going to be busy but I was shocked at the number and quality of the appointments Rick was able to secure for us today! Here's the list he gave me as we started out:

Scheck and Siress Lincoln Park:

·         Eric Neufeld, CPO / LPO<>
·          Jason Wening, CPO/LPO, MS, FAAOP<>

Ballert Northwestern:

Mark Han CO

RIC (Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago):

Martin Buckner, CPO
Sally Taylor PT
Kelly Spigohalter PT
Krista DerLar PT

Scheck and Siress Rush University MC

Alex Trumper CPO
Curtis VanHorn CfO

Hines VA Hospital:

Sudha Gupta, MD
Dr. Meenal Mamdani, MD
Dr. David Leehy MD
Dr. Percy, MD
Illiana Gicier PT
Kelly  PT
Kris. PT
Matt PT
Dider McManus PT
Arnold PT
Janet PT
Iris PT

Ballert Peterson

David Jones

What a great day we had! I got a few photos but in most of the facilities we were in the vicinity of patients so for privacy concerns I did not take pictures. The purpose of today was to help share the Get Back UP message with people who are directly responsible for helping people to get back up.

NOTE-- Some insight as to why it is necessary to have dialogue with these professionals regarding their patients with foot drop:

Often in our healthcare system there is a disconnect between the Physicians (who must diagnose and treat the underlying cause of foot drop, then write the prescription for an orthosis), the Orthotists (who must evaluate needs, create or supply a recommended orthosis, then fit and adjust the orthosis as necessary to combat the foot drop) and the Physical Therapists (who are responsible for developing treatment plans and strategies towards highest possible outcomes as patients return to their daily routines). Each of these professionals are critical to the process of care for someone who has foot drop and yet each of these professionals may see the patient at different stages of injury or recovery.

Occasionally (and ideally, in my opinion) these 3 branches work as a team throughout the patient's journey and they can all make adjustments and recommendations as the patients move through recovery. When things happen perfectly it is wonderful to see how these professionals can efficiently change so many lives for the better!

Unfortunately (and in my own personal experience) it is more often the case that these 3 teams have minimal interaction along the way. When this happens the patient's real-time needs can get lost in the shuffle, and NOT due to any lack of passion, caring or expertise on behalf of any of the professionals. The reason for the disconnect is simply that these 3 entities are usually in entirely separate practices, in separate locations, and see patients at differing times along the process of injury/recovery. To complicate things even further, it is often a major battle to get insurance companies to acknowledge the legitimacy of each service provider and the necessity for their individual services (whopping understatement but I'll leave this for another discussion!)

To provide a concrete example I will give you the details of my situation: My neurosurgeon diagnosed my foot drop while treating me for acute spinal trauma. He wrote a prescription for a back brace and AFO (Note: AFO stands for Ankle-Foot Orthosis if you're new to this blog) after performing a spinal fusion surgery on me. This prescription was given to the Orthotist (whom I was referred to by my insurance company) along with the only information my neurosurgeon supplied, that I had foot drop as a result of the compression of the peroneal nerve and that I was in need of the back brace due to the fusion of 3 lumbar/sacral vertebrae.  The Orthotist, knowing that I would be recuperating from major spinal surgery and needed to be stabilized, fitted me for an adjustable back brace and did a casting of my leg while I was in my hospital bed. From there he fabricated a custom molded plastic AFO to keep my foot from dragging when I was able to ambulate again.

Other than routine follow-up visits with my neurosurgeon I never had interaction with him as I made the slow recovery. My Orthotist never scheduled any follow up with me since, in his mind, he had done what was expected by providing me with the AFO and back brace. Finally I was cleared to be a bit more active and a recommendation was made by my neurosurgeon for Physical Therapy (this was a necessary formality if Insurance was going to cover this import phase of my healing!)

My PTs were the folks who saw me the most and who assessed not only my current state of mobility but also the goals I had for myself going forward. Taking all of this into account they did their very best to assist me in my goals, one of which was returning to a normal walking gait (without a walker or canes) and then eventually to running again. No one was confident that I'd ever run again and yet my PTs remained optimistic that it wasn't impossible.

To make a very long story a bit shorter, in order to run it became obvious that I would need a better AFO, which the PTs are not allowed to supply. So, I had to go back to the Orthotist only to learn that 1) at that time they didn't know of an AFO that would without doubt work for running and 2) even if they did, they could not bill my insurance for another AFO for 2 years because of maddening insurance protocol.

I could have given up here but then I learned of a "loop hole": My physician could perhaps prescribe a different AFO with adequate reasoning and documentation for why the immobilizing-AFO I wore during my 6-month INACTIVE recovery stage from spinal surgery was no longer adequate now that I was ACTIVE again. UGGGGGHHH. Ok, so now I had to convince my neurosurgeon to write another prescription for an AFO, which he did without hesitation, and then went back to my Orthotist. (Here's where I skip the details of how I got the Allard brace the first time, but pick up with what happens when I later went through proper channels required by every state in the US). My Orthotist then ordered and fit my new Allard brace and yet could not give it to me because my insurance company was denying the claim. Apparently, the dynamic response AFO's (different that the immobilizing versions) needed a separate and distinct prescription code, which had to come from my physician. So, I had to go back to the neurosurgeon to explain that he needed to give me the right prescription, to which he laughed at the inane insurance protocol--that a neurosurgeon was now supposed to be an expert in orthotics and prosthetics! He had no expertise in this area which is why he referred me to the specialists--the O&P--in the first place. He, like every other medical professional I was working with, wanted what was best for me and so he made a phone call to my Orthotist and asked him what the prescription needed to say. In my case it was "Allard ToeOFF, Accept No Substitutes" but at the very least it needed to say "Dynamic Response or Floor Reaction AFO" which apparently has a separate billing code than the plastic custom-made AFO's.

Ultimately insurance covered the claim for the brace and now I am active and much healthier, emotionally and physically, than had they kept me in the plastic AFO for life. But this didn't happen for me without a lot of effort and persistence, and without the tireless patience of my medical personnel who were not in communication with each other at all had it not been for my insistence. And, sadly, this is what happens for so many people across the US... they have a very difficult time getting connected to the proper personnel and technology but once they do they are in for a big fight with the insurance companies to allow for  this life-changing technology.

Sorry for the long discussion, but this is why it is so important for me to speak with the medical field professionals. I hope to be a part of the solution and the only way to do this is to get as much information as possible from as many of the "players" as possible.

Back to my Friday, which was an incredible step in this marathon journey of mine... The day was filled with enlightening discussions and Q&A sessions at every stop we made. I am always so encouraged by the MDs, PTs, and O&Ps I meet who are the true heroes in getting people back up. Many of them learned for the first time how adaptable the Allard products are and were thrilled to see our video of TeamUP and the real stories of people all over the country whose lives have changed dramatically thanks to the ToeOFF. Here are a few of the photos, which again are limited due to respect for patient privacy:

Many of the professionals we saw today commented on the bracelets I wore. The Boston one is obviously in support of runners everywhere (after the tragic events at this year's Boston Marathon) but the MS and CMTA bracelets remind me of the many people I am working for on this journey.

Rick provides lunch for  Scheck and Siress Rush University MC, but alas, no lunch for us as we make our way to the VA hospital.
My final comments on the day: Our last stop at Hines VA was a great example for how a healthcare team can work together. Organized by one of the PTs, we were brought in to share the GBU and TeamUP stories with the staff, as well as for Rick to provide all information regarding the Allard line of products. The PTs asked if the VA orthotists had the pertinent info (since this is how the PTs would get the technology for their patients) at which time the orthotists actually came down and entered the conversations. From there, the orthotists asked if the MD's at the VA had knowledge about these braces (since this is how the Orthotists would be able to get insurance coverage of these products for their patients) and subsequently the MDs came downstairs to learn more. With all 3 of the teams in the same room at the same time it was amazing how the conversations became streamlined and focused on the best possible patient outcomes all the way through the process. I know there will be people Getting Back UP as a direct result of our efforts today.


Saturday, July 20th:

Happy Birthday to my sister, Becky!!!

Today was so relaxing compared to yesterday. I was on call for potential media but other than that (and a bit of coordination for tomorrow's TeamUP runners) I had the day free to check in at the Expo and enjoy the sights of downtown Chicago. To spare you from another long dialog, enjoy the pictures!

Across the street from our hotel was this beautiful public space:
Jim is such a romantic, he tried to pick this flower for me.

The sun sets over downtown on a beautiful evening in the Windy City.

Can't believe I'm the only person in town!

We met these women, Genevieve and Katie, outside of our hotel at the DIVVY bike rental kiosk. They'd used these bikes in NYC and gave us a quick primer on how to rent them. The DIVVY bikes turned out to be the most fun and inexpensive way to get around we are at the Expo.

The Allard TeamUP jacket sits front and center in the Champion Systems booth at the Expo.

Rock 'n Roll gypsy reunion at the Expo: Merle, me, Susan, Dani, David, Kevin, Ron and Jim.

David DeNeire shares his "Clydesdale Runner" insight with John "The Penguin" Bingham on stage at the Expo. Way to go, Dave!

Fellow gypsy runners get long-overdue Get Back UP medals. Thanks you, Ron and Susan Carino, for everything you do to help so many Get Back UP. I appreciate all the ways you help to share my campaign, especially--you are two amazing and generous souls.

This was our "home base" Divvy bike station... highly recommend this as a way to get around town.

Jim takes a moment to play "Wolverine" with his food.

Sunday, July 21st: RACE DAY!!!

With the weather a bit warmer than originally expected we prepare for an early morning and a humid run...

Team UP Chicago... Lisa McKinney Victorius and Barbie Barnett. Lisa shares a "crumple the bib number" tip with Barbie. Apparently this was a trick Lisa utilized as captain of the University of South Carolina's Cross Country team to make sure the bib doesn't catch the wind and slow you down.

Running his first Half ever today, Rick Lusiak, stands next to Barbie and Lisa who will both be running their second Chicago Half together, along with me and Jim. What a good looking team!

This is for my cousin, Sandy, who would love to meet Danni (winner of Biggest Loser this year) in person. Danni has fallen in love with running, which she hated before doing the show this year, and is running today in celebration of her incredible weight loss.

Barbie and I make an impromptu sign to support our friend and fellow TeamUP ambassador, Shannon Poortenga, as she recovers from back surgery. Get Back UP Soon, Shannon!!

This is JoshNemzer, Senior Event Director for DMSE sports (who oversee the Boston Marathon) and good friend of my Boston-friend Jack Fultz. Was great to finally meet you, Josh!


RnR Gyspy Caravan: David, Joe, Jesus, Kevin, George, me, Jim and Michelle.

Another Gyspy, Kamika Smith, sporting his race medal and the bonus Heavy Medal Super 6...congrats, my friend!

We all made it! Barbie had a personal best today, way to go! Technically, so did Rick since this was his first ever Half Marathon...nice work, Rick!

Barbie, Susan, Ron, Al, Kamika and me celebrating the Finish Line.

After the race Jim and I rushed to South Side Chicago to take in a Sox game. Usually we watch the Cubs but both of us wanted to see our first White Sox game so off we went.

On the crowed El train I was really missing my Divvy bike.

Back in the city, we catch up with great friends from home...whom we never seem to see in Greensboro...for a rooftop drink at the W hotel. Amy and Matt Ketterman, congrats on a great run today and thanks for making time for us!
Thank you, Chicago, for a fantastic weekend. One more Half completed, one more stop along the Get Back UP journey: