Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Young Patient Inspires Marathon Team Runner’s Determination to Finish

Sutanuka Lahiri and Henry GeisHenry GeisSutanuka Lahiri and Henry Geis

Sutanuka Lahiri and Henry Geis Learn more about the 2012 MGHfC Marathon Team

Sutanuka Lahiri has decided she will finish the Boston Marathon, even if she has to walk the final 10 miles. She wants to complete the race to honor 3-year-old Henry Geis who has leukemia.

Lahiri, 31, is participating in her first-ever marathon as a member of the MassGeneral Marathon Team. But during a training run in the Newton Hills she felt her right leg snap. The pain caused her to stop running for six weeks. Her doctor prescribed rest for her iliotibial band syndrome, an overuse injury common among distance runners.

She spent many sleepless nights worrying about whether the injury would end her marathon challenge. Now, after weeks of rest and miles she only tallied on an elliptical machine, she plans to run through the pain and walk part of the way, if necessary.

She knows Henry doesn’t fully understand what she is doing. But her heart aches that this little boy has endured more than 30 hospital admissions and is still on chemotherapy.

On Lahiri’s first visit with Henry and his family on the 17th floor of the Ellison Building at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children, she brought him a plastic Buzz Lightyear toy. Henry saw the Toy Story character and exclaimed, “This is the biggest Buzz Lightyear I have seen in my life.” Then, he climbed onto Lahiri’s lap.

Sutanuka and Henry were connected through the Patient-Partner Program, which raises awareness of pediatric cancer and inspires the hospital’s youngest patients. Runners, like Lahiri, raise money for pediatric cancer research and cancer care. The Child-Life Program within the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, which helps patients and families cope, also benefits from the funds. Lahiri has raised more than $5,000.

Henry has Philadelphia-chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The outlook for children with this type of leukemia is good, said Kerry Collier, Henry’s mother. But because Henry’s cancer contains the rare Philadelphia chromosome, it requires more aggressive treatment, she added.

In March, Henry completed chemo sessions that required admission at Mass General, but he must take an oral chemo pill every day and still attend monthly sessions at Mass General for another two years.

Collier said her family and friends were eager to assist Sutanuka. “The child life program has been a huge help and I wanted to do what I could to contribute,” Collier says.

Lahiri said she is so glad that she met Henry and his family. “I want to do the Boston Marathon for him and also spread the message if you believe in yourself and have hope you can get through anything in life,” she said.

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