Friday, May 03, 2002

Runner in race for long life

Road work part of fight against rare liver disease

By Michael Perry,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ALEXANDRIA, Ky. — Jeff Harris started running in January 2000 to help lower his cholesterol. He continued because he became “addicted to it.” Now, Harris knows that keeping in shape could help him when he undergoes liver transplant surgery.

        He doesn't know when that will be. He is not on a waiting list. He hopes it will be years from now, but one day he probably will have to have a transplant unless a cure is found for his rare liver disease.

   Schedule of events for the fourth Flying Pig Marathon:


    3-8 p.m.: Northwood University Health & Fitness Expo (Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, 3rd Floor Ballroom). Open to public. No admission fee.


    9a.m.-Noon: Kahn's Flying Piglet Kid's Fun Run and Festival (Sawyer Point). Special entertainment, Safety Town, exhibit booths. Diaper Dash for children under 1; other races for 2- and 3-year-olds; 4- and 5-year-olds; 6- and 7-year-olds; 8- and 9-year-olds; 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds. On-site registration: $12 per child.

    10 a.m.-8 p.m.: Northwood University Health & Fitness Expo, Convention Center, 3rd Floor Ballroom). Free and open to the public. 5-8 p.m.: Cinergy Foundation Pasta Party (Atrium II, 221 E. 4th St.) Open to participants, family and friends on first-come, first-served basis. Seatings at 5p.m. and 6:30p.m. Prices, $15 adults, $8 children 3-8. Call 721-7447.


    6:25 a.m.: Flying Pig Wheelchair event (7th Street, between Elm and Race Streets).

    6:30 a.m.: Flying Pig Marathon, Ernst & Young Flying Pig 4-Person relay, Outback Steakhouse 2-Person Relay, Challenge Series divisions of relay events (7th Street, between Elm and Race Streets). 6:50 a.m.: Papa John's Flying Pig 5-Mile Run.

    Noon: Awards presentation, top finishers (Yeatman's Cove).

    10 a.m.-2 p.m.: MIX 94.1 Victory Party (Near finish line at Yeatman's Cove).

    Expo clinics — Sponsored by Runner's World
   Noon: Welcome

    12:05-1:20 p.m.: Panel discussion with marathoners Greg Osterman, John Sence, Laurie Herman and George Hirsch

    1:30-2 p.m.: What to eat before, during and after

    2:05-2:35 p.m.: How to mentally prepare for a marathon: Controlling self-talk

    2:40-3:10 p.m.: Prerace and postrace stretching

    3:15-3:45 p.m.: Clif SHOT Pace Teams

    3:50-4:15 p.m.: Flying Pig course description

        Harris, 44, who will run Sunday in his third marathon — and second Flying Pig — has primary sclerosing cholangitis, which scars and inflames the bile ducts inside and outside the liver. PSC eventually can cause liver failure. The cause is unknown.

        “They say the average is 10 years before you need a transplant,” Harris said. “Hopefully it'll go for a while. The thing you worry about is, once you do need one, are you going to get one?”

        He also doesn't know how long he had PSC before being diagnosed with it seven years ago. Harris goes to his doctor every six months to get a blood test and check his liver enzyme levels.

        “To use their term, you get the most mileage out of your liver that you can,” Jeff's wife, Cheryl, said. “It's really scary.”

        In spring 1995, Harris donated blood for Hoxworth Blood Center at Gibson Greetings, where he worked at the time.

        He had donated a couple times previously and been sent notes from Hoxworth saying his liver enzyme levels were too high for the blood to be used. The third time, Hoxworth sent a letter recommending he see a doctor.

        He did. The Alexandria, Ky., resident took a blood test that confirmed his liver enzyme levels were high. Harris stopped drinking alcohol for three months and took another blood test. Same results.

        Doctors suggested a liver biopsy that didn't show anything. A month later, nothing had changed. Doctors went down his throat with a camera, and that's when they diagnosed Harris with PSC. It was November 1995.

        “We cried about it when I was first diagnosed, but we knew, with the research we had done, that death was not around the corner,” he said.

        PSC affects about three in 100,000 people worldwide, according to a Columbia University report. Dr. Keith Lindor of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who is vice chairman for clinical affairs for the American Liver Foundation, said there have been no advances toward finding a cure, adding that he and others are working on treatments.

        The disease has received some high-profile media attention in the past few years.

        Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton had PSC and died in 1999 from liver cancer related to the disease.

        Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug was diagnosed with PSC at age 20 and in July 2000 had a liver transplant (he resumed snowboarding seven weeks later). His story came to light during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Jeff Harris of Alexandria, Ky.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        “He was saying how he came through the transplant surgery so well because he was in such good shape,” Harris said.

        Jeff and Cheryl Harris are both Newport High School graduates. They have been married 21 years and have a 13-year-old son, Drew.

        In 1980, Harris was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. He was on steroids, taking 10 pills a day. But that has been in remission since '82.

        Doctors think the PSC and ulcerative colitis are related, he said.

        For now, he takes two actigall pills a day and couldn't feel better. Harris has set goals of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (he needs a 3:25 time or better Sunday) and also would like to run the New York City Marathon down the road. He wants to break into Bob Roncker's top-20 rankings for his age group.

        “I feel like I'm healthy,” he said. “I'm in better shape than I've ever been. If I didn't know I had it, I would have no idea.”


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