The 3rd Annual ASTAR has begun in Soldotna today. At 9:15 this morning, Scott Gardner, Mark Eldridge, Hannah Morgan, Lisa Kosto, Eric Jewkes and Barry Wilson began the relay. The first leg travelled from Soldotna Post to the Sterling commercial truck scales. Excellent time was made by all with the last runner coming into Sterling by 11:30am.
Leg two began immediately, a run alond Sterling Highway, ending at the Skilak Lake Loop Road. Leg 2, Zach Stone, Jessica Jensen and Scott McCumby are running this leg.
Doctors knew right away that something was amiss with Fabian Berrios’ heart when he was born.
“They took him from my hands,” his father, Miguel, remembers. “They said the baby has a murmur and they took him.”
The newborn and his father were rushed from the hospital in Fairbanks to Portland where three days after his birth, doctors were performing the first of several open-heart surgeries on the infant. His wife, Ilea, had just given birth by Caesarean section after what seemed like a normal pregnancy and had to stay behind in Alaska, waiting for a phone call that would tell her what was wrong with her newborn son.
After being diagnosed with two congenital heart conditions almost four years ago, the toddler has undergone numerous medical procedures in hospitals away from his birth home. Following a complicated tracheotomy, he had to be paralyzed him for a week to ensure a fast and safe recover. He is now without a trachea and the ability to speak. He’s already had two open-heart surgeries to correct his heart defect and recently had a catheter inserted in his heart to prepare him for a third. The working side of his heart labors twice as hard as a normal heart and the oxygen levels in his blood are severally depleted. Otherwise, Fabian looks like a normal boy with the average weight and size for his age. While he may play like a normal child, his mother admits he tires easier than his peers.
For Fabian, this is a normal life. However, before he was born, the Berrios family had a life free from hospital visits in faraway cities. Now the family lives on Miguel’s income as a civilian employee working in logistics at Fort Wainwright after Ilea quit her job to concentrate on caring for Fabian.
“It’s been a little rough,” Miguel admitted.
As if dealing with Fabian’s illness wasn’t enough, Miguel left on April 21 for a yearlong deployment to Kuwait, leaving Ilea to take care of their two sons and four dogs. She will feel her husband’s absence as she handles Fabian’s recovery from hopefully his final open-heart surgery in May. Meanwhile, to prevent his older brother from seeing his younger brother recover from yet another surgery, 7-year-old Angelo will get to spend the summer with his grandfather in New York and in his family’s homeland of Puerto Rico.
“I don’t want him to be worried,” Ilea said. “He knows that his baby brother is missing one part of his heart and they’re trying to fix it.”
While looking for ways to cope with challenges that come with Fabian’s heart defects, Miguel contacted Wish Upon The North Star (WUNS) after finding the Alaskan charity online. WUNS is an all-volunteer charity formed by Alaskans in 1983 that serves Alaskan children with life-threatening illnesses. Over the years they’ve granted wishes to countless kids including sending an 11-year-old girl with a spinal cord injury to Disney World, buying digital camera equipment for a girl with cancer and flying a 13-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis to Hawaii.
The wishes provide relief for not only the children suffering from a life-threatening illness, but the families who accompany the child on the trip. While children often adapt to a world filled with illness because they’ve known little else in their short life, their condition drastically alters the life of their family. For parents, there is the struggle to stay positive as they sit in the hospital watching their child sleep with machines interrupting the peace, while helping their child struggle with what should be a simple task such as walking or breathing. Listening to Fabian’s cries while she held his hand as the anesthesia took affect before his latest procedure was agonizing.
“Looking at him go through this is really, really hard,” Ilea said.
Life goes from yearly family vacations to keeping the financial demons at bay while you fight to keep your child alive. WUNS provides help to deal with the emotional pain that comes along with the physical pain.
In 2010, WUNS received a $26,000 boost from the Alaska State Troopers Adventure Relay to help grant wishes for several children and their families that are part of the charity’s program. The more than 500-mile relay across Alaska for public safety individuals and their family and retirees was not only an epic adventure, but a chance to carry on a long-standing tradition of stepping up to help vulnerable Alaskans in crisis. The second annual relay will kick off in Fabian’s hometown on June 13 and will end in Soldotna on June 17. The relay is another way to help someone in need that officers wouldn’t have otherwise met during their duties. That help has now gone beyond monetary as Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks have stepped in to help the Berrios family.
Trooper Lt. Lonny Piscoya, deputy commander at D Detachment in Fairbanks, was tapped to help the Berrios family get their wish. Piscoya, a father of six, didn’t expect the emotions that surfaced when he became involved. He didn’t know the severity of Fabian’s condition until Ilea explained how the little boy’s life was threatened by hydroplastic right heart syndrome and tricuspid atresia – meaning the right side of Fabian’s heart and its’ tricuspid valve never developed, prohibiting it from pumping enough oxygen-rich blood to meet his body’s needs.
“It was very moving when I went into the house for the first time,” Piscoya said. “I hadn’t thought about that part of that. It totally blew me out of the water.”
Piscoya did the initial interview and subsequent meetings with the family that is part of the WUNS process to help them get the wish. The family has asked to have the boys’ room remodeled because it is not conducive to Fabian’s condition or for a growing boy. He needs a bed to replace the crib he still sleeps in and needs a humidifier for his condition.
“He needs to be more comfortable,” Ilea said. “We wanted to set up everything during his surgery so when he comes back he’ll have his room really nice for him.”
They also asked that the room is painted for Fabian’s return, something Piscoya will organize.
While Fabian may never have a normal childhood and his family may be dealing with his medical condition for many years to come, they try to keep things happy and light for their two young children. While the upcoming surgery won’t give Fabian a normal heart, it should greatly increase the oxygen flowing through his body. And if everything goes well, Fabian will start going to school in August.
In the meantime, Ilea will to continue keep busy nurturing Fabian back to health and staying upbeat for both sons while her husband is half a world away.
For some, it was the steaming piles of bear scat on the trail and a small stretch of white water kayaking that put the adventure into the Alaska State Troopers Adventure Relay. For others it was overcoming adversaries like the vertical bike over Hatcher Pass at night or dealing with bicycle mechanical problems in the middle of a leg. However, it’s knowing all the efforts, aches and pains would raise money to help the children and their families facing life-threatening illnesses that made the inaugural relay truly unforgettable.
The approximately 525-mile relay challenged troopers, military, city and federal law enforcement and corrections officers, retirees, employees and their families to continuously traverse Alaska by running, hiking, mountain biking, water rafting, kayaking and even incorporated a railroad handcar to get from Fairbanks to Seward in four days. Bonds were forged between the participants with every mile and every dollar collected for the Wish Upon The North Star charity. The route was divided into 27 legs, each with its own unique challenge along Alaska’s trails, roadways, railroads, lakes and rivers. According to organizers’ research, ASTAR was the longest non-motorized, continuous endurance relay in the world.
The relay captured the spirit of determination, demonstrated the will to face challenges and symbolized the far greater challenges for those the event benefits. The relay raised more than $26,000 for WUNS, a charity benefiting Alaskan children with life-threatening illnesses. WUNS board members said the money will allow them to grant five or six wishes for seriously ill children, giving the children and their families a much needed distraction from the constant battles they face daily while dealing with the adversities life has handed them. At the end of the relay, as everyone got together to retell stories of the trials along the trail, WUNS recipient, Andrew Kurka, told the crowd how the organization helped him get back on his feet after an ATV-crash crippled him years ago. Andrew’s story was an inspiration to all who were there.
The relay started with a 10-mile run through Fairbanks at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4 and traveled down along the Parks Hwy via bike, headed off road at Clear Air Force Station, back to the Parks Highway before diving into the woods for a 10-mile hike up the Cold Creek Trail. Day two started with a 38-mile paddle down the Susitna River to Talkeetna before runners and bikers took over the journey along the roads leading to Hatcher Pass. That night, bikers went over Hatcher Pass and runners went down into Palmer. After a short ride on a railroad handcar at the Palmer Fairground early Friday morning, bikers cruised down the Glenn Highway among morning commuters. Runners were greeted by a happy crowd after they made the soggy, cross-city run into Alaska State Trooper headquarters on Tudor Road at noon on Friday. From there, hikers hit the trails through Chugach State Park, climbing over Powerline Pass and finishing into Indian. After a bike to Alyeska Resort and up Turnagain Pass, hikers ended the third day of the relay with an overnight jaunt through bear-invested woods on the Johnson Pass Trail. While no one reported seeing a bear, many heard hair-raising roars and saw left over salmon dinners along the trail. The final day of the relay started with a 13-mile kayak trip from Trail Lakes to Kenai Lake. Two runs legs ended the relay when the final participant, Barry Wilson, jogged into Seward at 3:15 p.m. Sgt. Michelyn Manrique of AST’s Alaska Bureau of Investigations and First Lt. Aaron Anderson of the 6th Engineer Battalion at Fort Richardson ran the last two legs to do 18 consecutive miles by the time they crossed the finishing line.
Many bond were forged along the way as some participants competed against each other, and helped each other to overcome the arduous terrain along the way. The Fairbanks Police Department formed a team that will be used as a model for other teams in the future. Not only did they raise more than $9,000, they participated in every leg. To do this, many of them pushed themselves to their physical limits by doing multiple legs. Fairbanks Police Officer Kurt Lockwood tied with Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister of the 6th Engineer Battalion for participating in the most legs with seven. Hoffmeister led a team of brave soldiers who compiled a total of 1,460.7 miles between 66 people entered. Anderson ran 55 of the 74 miles of running legs in the relay. However, as he pointed out after compiling his battalion’s involvement, the group’s participation of running 238.9 miles, biking 684 miles, hiking 302 miles, rafting 190 miles, kayaking 39 miles and pumping a handcart seven miles is “far more impressive than any one person’s achievements.”
While the some 140 participants trekked across Alaska, numerous community volunteers cheered them along the way and welcomed the cold and tired participants at the various checkpoints at all hours of the day and night. The relay was a collaborated endeavor of epic proportions in fundraising, logistics and volunteer efforts. Even as participants were starting to rest weary muscles and sleep-deprived organizers were eating burgers at the end celebration in Seward, they were already talking about fundraising and new route challenges for next year’s relay.
The third annual Alaska State Troopers Adventure Relay to raise money for the Wish Upon The North Star charity will change directions this year starting in Soldotna on July 13 and ending in Fairbanks on July 17. In between are almost 30 legs of hiking, biking, running, kayaking and river rafting to benefit WUNS, a non-profit organized by Alaskans in 1983 to fulfill the wishes of Alaskan children with life-threatening illnesses. The relay will deviate from past routes by looping around to Delta Junction before heading north to Fairbanks.
The relay is open to law enforcement personnel, employees, retirees and family to participate as well as their fire department counterparts.
Created and organized by employees of the Alaska State Troopers on a volunteer basis, the relay includes the community AST serves – the State of Alaska – and benefits an Alaskan charity. Mixing up the methods of navigating Alaska’s beautiful and challenging terrain allows enthusiasts of all types of adventure to participate. The route travels through communities both small and large to strengthen the bonds between these individuals and the communities they serve, and over varying terrain to capture the adventuresome spirit that embodies The Last Frontier. The public can cheer the participants on, volunteer to help along the route and raise money to benefit children with life-threatening illnesses.
Through participation, pledges and fundraising, ASTAR was able to raise more than $37,000 for WUNS in the past two years. The relay captures the spirit of determination to face the challenges on the trail, symbolizing the far greater challenges for those the event will benefit.
The trail up the ridge and down the other side. Off road challenges not for the faint at heart! The trail was rough in many places.
Pictured: Nathan Werner, FPD Team
Hike up Kesugi Ridge, beginning at the Little Coal Creek Trail head Mile 164, Parks Hwy. Pictured here is AST Nathan Sheets resting in a moment of sunshine.