Beth Kissinger, who clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice William Johnson from 1996-1999, ran the Boston Marathon in April, but this story is about much more than Beth just running the race. Our thanks to the Union Leader newspaper for permission to reprint the article, and photograph, in e-Court Connections.
By ALLEN LESSELS
New Hampshire Union Leader
HOPKINTON -- Last year's Boston Marathon did not go all that well for Beth Kissinger.
Beth Kissinger, a former Supreme Court law clerk(Photo Credit:
Bob LaPree / New Hampshire Union Leader)
Things were fine through about Mile 17 for the attorney and mother of three, but then she started to feel ill. Really lousy, in fact. She struggled through the last nine miles of the 26.2-mile course.
The name she had written on the front of her T-shirt, and down her legs, helped.
"Go, Steve," people yelled from the side of the course. "Yeah, Steve!"
"It kind of kept me in there, kept me going ahead," Kissinger said the other day in her home.
In some ways, though, it made things more difficult.
"It's very bittersweet," she said. "It's sad."
Steve is Beth's oldest brother. He died in 2003 at the age of 49 from primary hyperoxaluria (PH1), a rare genetic liver and kidney disease.
This morning, Kissinger, 43, will be back on the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., bound for Boston, 26.2 miles away.
She once again will run for Steve. And for another brother, Eric, who is two years older than she and is a firefighter in Kennebunk, Maine, and doing well now after liver and kidney transplants because of the disease.
She will run for the anonymous donors of Eric's organs and for the American Liver Foundation.
Four of her running friends from Hopkinton -- Jim Givens, Liz Durant, Colleen Symonds and Elizabeth Ridinger -- will join her and run for the Liver Foundation's Run for Research team.
And they will run for Kissinger.
Like her brothers, she has PH1.
Her liver is missing a key enzyme, and that causes hyper production of a substance called oxalate. Most commonly, oxalates combine with calcium to form kidney stones. The overproduction of oxalates in PH1 patients usually leads to renal failure as the kidneys effectively become calcified.
She sees a kidney specialist at Mass General in Boston regularly and takes 1,200 milligrams of B6 a day, along with potassium citrate. She has dietary restrictions. Those have eased some in the last six months, but foods that are very high in oxalates -- a lot of beans, many nuts and spinach among them -- are not good for her.
"The only real cure is to get a liver transplant to replace the enzyme that's missing," Kissinger said.
The goal is to avoid that.
"This seems to be working very well," she said. "Apparently it doesn't work for everybody, but it appears to be working fine for me."
She credits Steve for her health.
The disease is extremely rare, and by the time he was diagnosed, it was too late for him to be considered a candidate for a transplant.
The oldest of eight siblings, Steve insisted that all his brothers and sisters be tested and learn all they could about the disease.
Beth and Eric were the two who were afflicted with it. Eric found out early enough to get on a transplant list, Beth early enough to be able to control it.
The disease, she said, does not affect her running.
Kissinger, who works part-time as an attorney in Concord started running as a stress reliever after Steve told her of his diagnosis. She had run four marathons before her children were born, and as she built up her mileage, she decided to do another. She and her husband, John, plan to do the Marine Corps Marathon together in October.
It was at Boston in 2006 that she noticed a T-shirt that read, "Go Liver."
"It's a nice feeling when you see someone supporting people like you," she said.
Kissinger researched the Liver Foundation marathon effort and signed on.
She's added friends along the way, and this year the group of five is going from one Hopkinton to another this morning to run the Marathon and support the Liver Foundation and Kissinger.
"I take my health for granted and certainly shouldn't do that," said Givens, who is running his seventh consecutive Boston and 16th marathon overall. "(Kissinger) deals with the disease every day and is still able to take care of herself and put in the time and energy and effort to train for a marathon and work and take care of her family. She's phenomenal."
This will be Durant's fourth Boston and 18th marathon, and she's helped train Symonds and Ridinger for their first.
"Boston is such an atmosphere of hopes and dreams and all that corny stuff," Durant said. "You see shirts from the Liver Foundation and Dana Farber and the Leukemia Society and tons of different shirts of people running in memory of someone. That's really what it's all about. Beth is one of the most positive and upbeat people I know. And she's helping bring awareness to liver disease."
Even though it can hurt a bit, too.
"It can be kind of emotional," Kissinger said. "At the same time, it's a way to keep a connection to Steve that I can't have anymore."