POULSBO — Sisters Betty Bennett, Rebecca Finch and Christlyn Hill will never forget the empty wheelchair.
Bennett walking, Finch pushing a walker and Hill in a wheelchair, the trio had nearly made the trek around Seattle’s Green Lake at the first ever Walk for Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). When the finish line was in sight, Bennett urged Hill to leave her wheelchair behind.
“I said, ‘Get out of the chair. We’re walking together,’” Bennett recalled. “And we walked arm and arm to that finish line. We were bound and determined we were going to do it together.”
While the 2.8 Green Lake walk may seem like a relatively simple event, it was a momentous occasion for the sisters who are living with PKD. The genetic disease, which causes painful cysts to grow on the inner and outer walls of the kidney, affects 600,000 people nationwide but is still fairly unknown.
Bennett and her family have been trying to change that fact.
The sisters are the children of Orville and Bertie Helland and the granddaughters of Earl and Madge Jull. They can trace PKD through death certificates and medical records up the maternal line of her family tree for at least seven generations. Besides allowing doctors to study their family, the trio has been tireless advocates of finding successful treatments and cures of the disease.
“We want to save our next generation,” Bennett said.
The 2002 Seattle Walk for PKD, which the sister participated in, raised more than $24,000 for PKD research and education and garnered more than 200 participants. More impressive, the Poulsbo family’s team, Team Challenge, was the largest team in attendance with 38 family and friends making the walk. Bennett said many family members who came do not have PKD and Hill’s daughter Kellie Reardon, who lives in Virginia, walked at the same time as the group in her hometown and plans to do so this year as well.
“It really touches you when you feel like you’ve been in this battle alone for so long,” Bennett said of the support she felt at the race.
“That people are willing to help if they know of a need,” Hill added.
Besides the family and friends who showed up in droves last year, all three said they felt the presence of the dozens and dozens of family members who were taken too early in life by the affects of PKD.
“They were there with us,” Bennett said.
In addition, Bennett was the largest individual fund-raiser. She just nudged out a Bremerton family with a $200 donation from her fiance Jerry McCrary. Hearing Team Challenge members Brandon Austin and Tim Finch brag that the 2.8-mile walk had been a piece of cake, McCrary pledged $100 a piece if they’d do a second lap. The gift won Bennett a round-trip ticket on Alaska Airlines that she used to fly Reardon in for Hill’s 51st birthday in June.
The 2nd Annual Walk for PKD will take place at 10 a.m. Sept. 21 at Green Lake and Team Challenge will be there — only this time, it’s Team Challenge II. The sisters are counting on as many family members, if not more, and invite anyone else interested to join them. Bennett said they appreciated each and every card, letter, kind word and prayer they received last year and the same would help this year. And of course, anyone who wants to give to the cause is welcome.
“The cure is as close as the research dollars,” Bennett said. “We’re going down the right path. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel but as quick as we get there depends on the fund-raising we do.”
Call Betty Bennett at (360) 697-6932
or go to www.pkdcure.org