Local runners are encouraged to pound the pavement and cross the finish line March 7 in honor of a Bossier City girl.
Wesley and Jennie Bange created “Cross the Finish Line for Caroline” in 2010 and named the 5K and fun run event after their daughter, Caroline. Proceeds from the event go to an organization that is near and dear to this family’s heart — the Loeys-Dietz Syndrome Foundation (LDSF).
The Bange family is heavily involved with the foundation after Caroline was diagnosed with Loeys-Dietz syndrome (LDS) in 2009. LDS is a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue in the body.
Individuals with LDS exhibit a variety of medical features in the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, skin and gastrointestinal systems. Jennie said everything went fine during her pregnancy, but doctors noticed physical differences after Caroline was born.
Although they immediately knew something was wrong, they just didn’t know what it was. The Bange family spent weeks and months looking for an answer.
Finally, the answer came when Caroline was five months old.
“LDS was such a new condition that we had no idea what to expect,” Wesley Bange said. “At the time, we were told there were only 300 people in the world diagnosed with it.”
LDS is a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue in the body. Jennie said they were somewhat relieved by the diagnosis.
“Some of the things they thought she had meant she wouldn’t even live through childhood,” she said.
But with the diagnosis came many uncertainties. Rather than dwelling on it, they decided to immediately set forth on a course of action.
They came up with a game plan on how to cope with Caroline’s way of life, which meant a lot of doctor’s appointments, tests and procedures. The more she grows, though, the more her body changes with LDS.
“It’s constantly evolving,” Wesley said. “There’s no cure, but we feel blessed where we fall on the spectrum. There’s no reason for her life expectancy to be shorter.”
The Bange family credits the work of their pediatrician and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital for keeping their lives on track.
In 2010, they decided to organize a fundraiser, hoping to create awareness and raise funds for LDS research. They set a goal of $5,000 to get things started.
Wesley and Jennie were immediately blown away by the community support. They had no idea their “small fundraiser” would evolve into an annual event and ultimately be responsible for over $80,000 raised for LDS.
Their goal is to raise another $20,000 this year, making the contribution to LDS research $100,000 in just five years.
“The support we have received is amazing,” Jennie said. “It really melts your heart to see the outpouring of donations. Thank you doesn’t even begin to express how we feel.”
Caroline is now six-years-old and in kindergarten at Sun City Elementary. She loves music, loves to sing and is an excellent reader. Her parents say she’s just one happy little girl.
Wesley and Jennie hope the community will continue supporting their mission of making Loeys-Dietz syndrome “a definable condition, and not a condition that defines.”
“[Caroline] will definitely face challenges, but we hope she finds friends that understand and accept that,” Jennie said.
Wesley added,” Everyone wants their child to have a happy childhood. We want the same for Caroline. She may run different or look different, but it’s her way of life and that’s what she knows. It’s the way she looks at the world and how she doesn’t look at herself as any different that makes us proud.”
Cross the Finish Line for Caroline will be held Saturday, March 7, at Elm Grove Middle School in Bossier City.
The fun run will begin at 8 a.m. followed by the 5K run at 8:30 a.m. Participants in the fun run are asked to come early and decorate their bib number.
Race day registration and check-in will begin at 7:30 a.m. The course begins at Elm Grove Middle School and takes a flat, scenic course through the Savannah Place neighborhood.
The entry fee for the 5K is $20 by Feb. 25 and $25 thereafter. The fun run costs $15 to participate. All proceeds benefit the Loeys-Dietz Syndrome Foundation (LDSF), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Baltimore, Maryland, in order to encourage education, foster research and provide support for those impacted by LDS.
For more information, visit www.crossthefinishlineforcaroline.com