Ultramarathon Keeps Young Man's Memory Alive



Ann-Marie Lindstrom | | Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shawn Patrick Duffany was only 17 when he died in July 2008. Because he couldn't speak, he communicated in other ways. "He was communicating with his eyes. John Pudlinski, a Campion Ambulance Service EMT and retired police detective, said in an article in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American.

Pudlinski met Duffany in 2006 when the boy, who had epilepsy and cerebral palsy, used a Campion ambulance for a three-hour roundtrip to a medical facility to get care for his feeding tube. Though that was the only contact between the two, the EMT says the boy affected him more than anyone else in his 38-year law enforcement and EMS career.

"Because of him, I added compassion and respect to the necessary skills of improvisation and common sense we teach EMTs," Pudlinski said in the Republican-American article. He produced two videos, one on Duffany's life and another of Duffany's mother addressing pediatric care of a special-needs child, for the EMT classes he teaches. He says there's never a dry eye in the classroom after the students see the videos.

This past summer, after Duffany died, Pudlinski wanted to do more to honor the young man's memory. He brainstormed with some friends, and they came up with the idea for an ultramarathon -- a 30-mile run. A BLS ambulance from Litchfield and two Campion ALS ambulances accompanied the runner with supplies -- such as bananas and Gatorade -- and were ready to provide medical aid if that became necessary.

About two dozen runners participated by running only parts of the event. Pudlinski was the only one to run the entire 30 miles. Not bad for a guy in his late 50s. Other runners included fellow Campion employees, law enforcement officers -- current and retired -- and medical personnel from a local hospital. Members of volunteer ambulance associations, military personnel and civic leaders also ran portions of the course.

The October 2008 event raised more than $11,000 for the Connecticut chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Pudlinski chose Make-A-Wish because Duffany's mother said it had sponsored a 2003 trip Shawn took to Disney World.

The run and its accompanying story aren_t about Pudlinski, Campion Ambulance or any other individual. "This was about giving back to the community's children and their families -- brightening their lives in times of adversity," he says.

Lessons Learned

His lessons learned can help others who want to organize charitable events in their communities. His rule of thumb? Don't ask people if they want to contribute. Ask them how much they are going to give.

Although a "big bucks" approach might seem more difficult in our current economic climate, Pudlinksi was bold and direct about his fundraising. He didn't ask people to sponsor a runner for a nickel or dime a mile. He asked for large donations of $500 to $1,000.

After he got money from a local bank and some law firms, he divulged that amount to get more money out of the next potential donor.

Another example is when nurses at the hospital said they'd like to help with the fundraising, Pudlinski says he took one with him when he approached a doctor for donation. He told the doctor about the ultramarathon and then said, "How much you going to contribute, doc?"

It's an interesting use of pride. You can't be too proud to ask for money, and at the same time, you appeal to the donors' pride to do as well as or better than their peers.

Pudlinski believes people like to help, as in the case with the ultramarathon that ultimately benefitted the Make-A-Wish Foundation and memorialized Duffany. He says you just have to show them a need and explain how they can help. More times than not, they'll chip in.

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