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Alex Fleming gives back to Doernbecher at the Shamrock Run

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This article appeared in the March 2014 issue of Portland Family.

Even with 35,000 openings, all the slots for Portland’s popular 36th Annual adidas Shamrock Run on March 16 are taken.

However, University of Portland student Alex Fleming claimed her spot early. She has been preparing to run in the 5-kilometer race for OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, which has been helping her fight kidney disease since she was a freshman in high school.

This is Alex’s second adidas Shamrock Run. For her senior project in high school last year, Alex raised $1,500 for kidney research at Doernbecher and ran in the 8-kilometer race with her sister, Megan, and her father, Ed. Her family and friends helped her surpass her fundraising goal, and the National Kidney Foundation donated educational materials on kidney disease on Alex’s behalf for kids being treated at the hospital.

Alex’s story
Alex’s battle with kidney disease began four years ago. A routine physical exam, needed to compete on her high school’s cross-country team, showed that her cholesterol lipid panel was quite high.

“At first, we weren’t really sure what was wrong,” Alex said. “I didn’t have any symptoms other than high cholesterol. And my ankles were swollen for a couple weeks before the diagnosis, but otherwise I felt okay.”

Further investigation found problems with her kidneys, specifically that she had glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of the filters in the kidneys. A kidney biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

“I was diagnosed with stage-two kidney disease,” Alex explained. “That was scary. My family and I immediately met with Dr. Rozansky, my nephrologist. He partnered with us to ensure that we understood the state of my kidneys and all of the possible treatment options. Despite the difficulty of my diagnosis, Dr. Rozansky made us feel well cared for and helped us to remain positive.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, when the kidney is injured, it cannot get rid of wastes and extra fluid in the body. If the illness continues, the kidneys may stop working completely, resulting in kidney failure.

“Kidneys filter our blood to remove waste, and to balance water and salts,” explained Alex’s physician, Doernbecher kidney specialist David Rozansky, M.D., Ph.D. “If the salt and water balance is altered with reduced kidney function, the patient often has to be on a special diet, and test their blood pressure at home.”

Alex began receiving medication and had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days. “By the time I was able to process what I was going through, we were so far into it,” she said. “But overall, I was pretty scared.”

Alex’s parents, Ed Fleming, who works in The Oregonian’s advertising department, and Sharon Fleming, a Portland realtor, always were very supportive. They started cooking salt-free food and stayed with her in the hospital. Unfortunately, Alex had to put her cross-country aspirations on hold while she underwent treatment.

“For the first six months, I visited the hospital twice weekly, for blood tests on Monday and infusions on Friday,” she said. “I was also balancing that with school.”

“Later, I was able to taper off the infusions and just visit the hospital bimonthly for blood tests and appointments with Dr. Rozansky. I started a new drug this past October, so I now visit the hospital twice monthly for infusions again.”

At home, she had to go on a low-sodium diet, drink adequate amounts of water each day, and monitor and record her blood pressure every day. “I recorded it every day for four years … and I still do,” Alex said. To Dr. Rozansky, Alex is a poster child for how to take care of oneself during treatment.

“Alex is a well-accomplished young woman, and model patient,” said Dr. Rozansky. “She checks her pressure, eats the right things and gets exercise. And she communicates with her doctor and asks good questions. It’s great to work with such a model patient because adherence issues with teenagers are so often a big problem.

“It’s particularly important to pay attention in these cases because the kidney is the silent organ. And because it’s a silent organ, the problems can be subtle.”

Fortunately, Alex’s treatment has progressed to where she depends on lifestyle changes and a new medication, in addition to her every-other-week trips to Doernbecher. It’s also worth noting that her situation didn’t impact her schooling, as she maintained a 4.0 throughout her ordeal, and participated in marching band.

“I don’t feel bad in any way, and I’m not as tired as I was when I was first diagnosed,” Alex said. “Also, I can run if I want. The only thing that makes me different from anyone else my age is that I have to get treatment.”

Today, Alex is a freshman at the University of Portland School of Nursing, working on prerequisites.

“Once I get into clinicals in a couple of years, I’ll get a better idea of my options,” she said. “I think I’d like to be a nurse practitioner, but we’ll see if that changes.”

“Being a patient at Doernbecher has shown me what it means to be a great medical professional,” she said. “I hope that I can provide the same level of care that I have received at Doernbecher in my career as a nurse.”

Giving back to Doernbecher is important to Alex, and she’s looking forward to running in the adidas Shamrock Run this year.

“Doernbecher provides medical and emotional support,” she said. “If you can pay, then you do; and if you’re unable, you get treated anyway. I’m supporting it so that other kids can get help too.”

Deston Nokes is a travel and business writer living in Portland. www.destonnokes.com

TWO-DAY FITNESS FAIR AT THE OREGON CONVENTION CENTER
Whether or not you’re registered for the run, a great way to interact with other fitness-
minded people and their families is to visit the two-day adidas Shamrock Fitness Fair,
presented by LifeWise, March 14 and 15.

The fair, at the Oregon Convention Center, attracts more than 20,000 people and features more than 60 fitness exhibitors. There will be entertainment, contests, giveaways, prizes and
— best of all — the Leprechaun Lane kids’ area, sponsored by Portland Family magazine.

Free admission and open to the public, not just to Shamrock participants.

2014 SHAMROCK FITNESS FAIR
DAYS AND TIMES: FRIDAY, MARCH 14, 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
SATURDAY, MARCH 15, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
• Oregon Convention Center address: 777 NE MLK, Jr. Blvd
• Where: Exhibit Hall B. Enter opposite NE Oregon Street and MLK Jr. Blvd. Follow the signs and walk downstairs.
• Directions and Parking: www.oregoncc.org
• Bus and Light Rail Info: www.trimet.org

If you were lucky enough to get into the run, head to the Fitness Fair to pick up your Shamrock bib number, T-shirt and hooded sweatshirt (if purchased). For runners, a timing chip will be attached to the back of your bib number.

Pick-up on Sunday will begin at 6:30 a.m. at the Will Call canopy in Waterfront Park at SW Naito Parkway and Stark Street. Since the event is sold out, there is NO race-day registration.

PORTLAND’S adidas SHAMROCK RUN is one of the year’s most popular road races, further sparked by the money it raises money for OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. This well-orchestrated event offers something for everyone. The March 16 races include runs of 5-, 8- and 15-kilometer distances, starting and ending at SW Naito Parkway and Pine Street, near downtown Portland’s Waterfront Park. In addition, there is a walk and even the Leprechaun Lap, a 1-kilometer kids’ run for ages 12 and under.

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