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Local surgeon runs half-marathon; raises funds for autism

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By Sharon Graves

By SHARON GRAVES

The News-Democrat

Doctor. Mother. Runner. All three words describe Jeannine Perrenoud, and each played a part in her decision to run in the New York City Half Marathon on July 27.

A surgeon at Carroll County Memorial Hospital, Perrenoud has a 4-year-old daughter who has been diagnosed with autism. Running in the 13.1 mile race, she was able to raise $5,000 for autism research, in hopes that research will help her daughter – and other children – someday.

Perronoud has never before been a distance runner, but was inspired to give it a try after her brother-in-law, Kevin Miller, who lives in New York City ran in the full marathon (26.2 miles) there in November. Miller raised $5,000 for Autism Speaks.

“I did it for autism, since it is such an important disorder in my life.” Perrennoud said. The money she raised was donated to the Organization for Autism Research, based in Arlington, Va.

One of more than 10,000 runners to start the race, Perrenoud finished with a time of 2 hours, 44 minutes. Winning times were 1 hour, 58 seconds for the men’s division and 1 hour, 10 minutes and 19 seconds in the women’s division, according to the New York Road Runners club Web site, www.nyrr.org.

Perronoud was greeted at the finish line by her husband, Dr. Mark Miller, of the Carroll County Rural Health Clinic; her daughter, Rose; and her mother-in-law. She also was motivated by a microchip that was in her shoe for the race, which allowed her fellow employees at the hospital to track her progress during the race.

Knowing both groups were supporting her kept her motivated throughout the race.

“I didn’t want everyone to see me quit,” Perrenoud admitted.

Employees at the hospital caught the spirit of fund-raising, and held a raffle for a huge basket of summer-fun goodies. The basket was put together by six employees in the surgical suite, who sold $702 worth of tickets. The winning ticket, purchased by Carol Bates, who works in the hospital’s business office, was drawn by Rose.

“We wanted to make sure our doctor knew we supported her,” said Leah Payton, a registered nurse in Perrenoud’s group. “We all started training with her in January, but it was cold and we all quit in a week. But she kept with it.”

Perrenoud is continuing to raise funds for the cause, and her progress can be tracked online at FirstGiving.com. Visitors to the site can type in her first and last names in the box to see the donations and notes of encouragement posted there. Donations are being accepted until November.

Perrenoud said her feet were blistered and she was tired after the quick three-day trip to New York for the event. Still, she said she is ready to get back to training. “I’ll start running in a few days so I don’t lose everything I’ve gained,” she said. “It’s hard to get, but it doesn’t take long to lose it.”

And, she plans to run again. In 2009, her goals are to run in the Kentucky Derby Festival mini-marathon in Louisville and in the New York City full marathon.

Miller said he is there to help her get there. While she was training for the New York event, his job was to free up time for her to train. He took care of chores around the house, and both of them work together to take care of Rose.

“I’m pretty amazed at [Jeannine’s] accomplishments,” he said. At first, Perrenoud could only run a half mile before she was winded. “But in no time at all, she was running 10-12 miles” at a time, he said. “She’s mentally tough.”

A diagnosis of autism

Perrenoud said she and her husband noticed Rose was a little delayed in learning to crawl and stand, but they were most concerned because she did not speak.

“She wasn’t one of those children who had a full vocabulary, and then at age 2 quit talking,” Perrenoud said. Rather, Rose never uttered a word, until recently.

“In one aspect, we were surprised [with the diagnosis]; but in another aspect, deep down, we knew,” Perrenoud said. “The hardest part was getting over the denial and getting her the help she needed. We had to mourn the child we lost, but we gained so much more because of her. I have learned so much about patience and understanding. We are very lucky.”

Rose has in-home therapy from 8-11 a.m. four days a week and attends the Endeavor Program in Louisville in the afternoons. “And she has music therapy once a week,” Perrenoud explained. “We are very involved with her therapy so we can help her.”

Perrenoud’s dream is that Rose will grow up to be self-sufficient and able to live on her own someday.

Though statistically, having an autistic child is tough on a marriage and leads to divorce 80 percent of the time, she said the situation has had the opposite effect for the couple. “This has brought us closer together,” she said. “We may have more children, but right now therapy is so expensive. ... We want to focus on her therapy.”

Rose loves music, especially classical, and hums anything she hears, proving she can take in information and express it. “One day when she was 2, she was humming Mozart,” Perrenoud said. “I was shocked. She didn’t speak, but she was humming Mozart. My husband didn’t believe me until one day he heard her, too. She’s got good pitch, which is another reason we are so hopeful she’ll be able to speak.”

For more information about autism or OAR, visit www.researchautism.com.