Couple are running Broad Street for life or death

Tom and Pam Kramer hope to enlist fellow entrants in the Broad Street Run to look into becoming bone-marrow donors through their nonprofit, Racing to Register.
Tom and Pam Kramer hope to enlist fellow entrants in the Broad Street Run to look into becoming bone-marrow donors through their nonprofit, Racing to Register.
Posted: May 02, 2012

The Inquirer is presenting one profile a day of participants in Sunday’s Blue Cross Broad Street Run. See full coverage at www.philly.com/broadstreetrun.

By Michael Vitez

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

In 2009, in his Chester County kitchen, Tom Kramer turned frustration and desperation into inspiration.

He would turn what he loved — running, training — into a cause that could save the life of his wife, Pam, and the lives of many like her.

Pam has a rare form of blood cancer, myelofibrosis, that eats away at her bone marrow and will eventually be fatal. There is but one known cure — bone-marrow transplant, and even with that, only 50 percent of patients survive.

To have any hope of growing old with her husband, Pam needs a match. Matching is not one in a million, but feels like it. The more people who register as bone-marrow donors, the better the chances for her and others.

So Tom decided to create a nonprofit, Racing to Register (www.racingtoregister.org).

So far, their nonprofit has signed up 2,100 people, and four matches for other patients have been found in that group, though none yet for Pam. Mostly, it registers folks at expos and events before the actual races. It takes only five minutes to fill out the paperwork and get a swab of your cheek.

Nationally, half who register drop out. Tom believed that distance runners and triathletes have the drive and determination to follow through, to stick with the process of being donors, undergoing surgery to benefit a complete stranger.

“It doesn’t seem to bother athletes at all,” Pam said. “They’re, like, ‘I don’t care, sign me up.’ We were really surprised about that. They understand pain and suffering in some cases.”

There are many layers to this story. Tom can’t be a donor himself, because he’s had back surgery, and yet he wanted to share in his wife’s struggle, so he gravitated toward the most punishing endurance events — marathons, and Ironman triathlons.

“I feel so helpless,” he said. “Maybe I’m trying to put myself through some sort of punishment that she’s going through as well.”

Pam says her doctors aren’t too wild about her competing in races like this, but she’s determined to live life on her own terms as long as she can.

Last year, she ran Broad Street for the first time, and this year she’s hoping to average 12-minute miles.

Four months ago, her red blood cells were so low it looked as if she would need the transplant immediately, and surely wouldn’t be able to run Broad Street. But she bounced back. Medicine masks the cancer and gives her a temporary reprieve. But the oxygen level in her blood on Sunday will still be lower than for most every other runner, because she has fewer red blood cells.

For Pam, 48, of Malvern, every step will feel like running at altitude.

Tom just reinjured his back in the last two weeks. But he is determined to run with her.

“I had two shots,” he said. “I’m having one more injection to help me. It may be ugly, but I will run.

“Somehow.”

Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @michaelvitez

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