Firefighter fundraiser fills boot to help MDA research

Published 5:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

Losing his father to cancer as a child was never far from hismind as Lt. Stanley Dixon of the Brookhaven Fire Department satoutside Wal-Mart one Saturday, helping raise money for the MuscularDystrophy Association through “Fill the Boot,” a program that firedepartments across the country participate in to help MDA.

“My dad died of cancer 20 years ago, so I have some prettystrong feelings about people with similar sickness,” he said. “Ireally try to help anyone dealing with an illness like this.”

Brookhaven firefighters spent three Saturdays in a rowpositioned outside Wal-Mart with a firefighter’s boot, askingpeople to put money in it as they made their way into or out of theSuperCenter. As such, they raised almost $2,700 for the cause.

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Muscular dystrophy patient Kimberly Dunnaway, 22, of Jayess, andher family visited BFD’s central station Friday when MDA officialshonored the shift that raised the most money during the fundraiser.Her 5-year-old son Dillon got to explore the fire truck, use thefire hose and see what it’s like to be a real firefighter duringtheir visit.

“But he wants to be a doctor so he can find a cure for his mom,”said Dunnaway’s mother Karen Carr. “He started saying that as soonas she got sick.”

Dunnaway said she’s had myasthenia gravis, one of around 40different kinds of muscular dystrophy, for three years now, and hadto have open heart surgery two years ago at the age of 20.

MDA spokesperson Tonya Taylor said Dunnaway is one of about 800patients in the state. Still, Dunnaway said she tries to focus onthe positive.

“I’m blessed,” she said. “We’re going through the crisis, butI’m still so blessed.”

Carr said the disease, which is characterized by progressiveweakness and degeneration of the skeletal muscles that controlmovement, makes everyday activity tough for Dunnaway.

“Even at her young age, she needs lots of rest,” Carr said. “Byafternoon, even with all her medicines, she’s so tired it’s hardfor her to talk.”

And it is that reason that firefighters say that Fill the Bootis important every year – to help those who can’t helpthemselves.

“This matters to us because of not just her condition but allthe people with muscular dystrophy,” said Lt. Andrew Graham. “Thisis a good cause, and that’s what we’re here for, to helppeople.”

Dixon agreed.

“That’s part of being a firefighter,” he said. “We have acertain responsibility to help people. As part of our duties, we’rehere to do what’s best for the public.”

Taylor said that MDA officials in Mississippi look forward toworking with BFD because they’re always willing to put their allinto the drive, as well as having inter-department competitions totry to help drive the totals up.

“A lot of other departments don’t do as much as these guys do,”she said. “They’re really nice to work with, and they set up acompetition between the shifts to see who could raise themost.”

Carr said projects that raise money for MDA are important toher, because the condition can be passed down to the generations.In addition, Dunnaway said, it’s always a blessing to see peoplefighting for MDA, simply because so much emphasis is put oncancer.

“There are people out there everywhere with cancer, andeveryone’s constantly focused on it,” she said. “When I see peopleworking for MDA, I get excited because it’s a reminder thatsomebody cares.”

And BFD does, said Lt. Kelly Porter.

“In this world that we live in, we need to help anybody thatneeds it,” he said. “With the gifts we’re given, we should chooseto help more people who need us. That’s the reason we not onlydon’t mind doing this, but we look forward to it.”

Dunnaway said she’s just grateful for the time BFD put inraising money for her cause.

“It feels really good. It’s a big deal, because there’s not acure yet,” she said.