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Run/walk benefits Florida Brain Tumor Association


Posted on: 01/25/2004

Run/walk benefits Florida Brain Tumor Association

By Janis Fontaine, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2004

The David Hemela and Michele Shepard Race for the Magic Bullet, a 5K run/walk fundraiser for the Florida Brain Tumor Association and the Brain Tumor Foundation, will be held Saturday, Feb. 7 at John Prince Park. A family fun day is planned following the race.

But the fun doesn't end -- or begin -- there. On Friday night, folk singer David M. Bailey will perform a free concert at 7:30 p.m. at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, 345 S. Military Trail, just south of Gun Club Road in West Palm Beach. Bailey is an award winning folksinger and a brain tumor survivor. His story has been featured on 48 Hours, 60 Minutes and Fox Health, and in May 2003, he won the Kerrville New Folk songwriting competition. The concert is being sponsored by Murray Shepard, whose wife Michele Shepard died on New Year's Day 2003 after a 39-month struggle against brain cancer.

Michele Shepard was one of those women with a full plate. From her family, to her accounting career, to her passion for the martial arts and patchwork quilts, Michele packed a lot of life into her 41 years. But during the time she fought the disease -- an aggressive cancer called gliobastoma multiforme (GBM for short) -- Michele added four brain surgeries, 30 radiation treatments and thee rounds of chemotherapy to her resume.

"Michele was a fighter," her husband Murray, an attorney in Plantation, said by phone. After her diagnosis in September of 1999, and her first surgery in October, Michele was back to working out in record time, he said.

"She had great quality of life through July of 2002." Then, around the end of July, Michele lost her ability to swallow and had to have a feeding tube surgically inserted to give her food and water. In the middle of October, she lost her strength and couldn't walk. She went from a wheelchair to a hospital bed and finally let go on the first day of the new year. She died just a few weeks before her 42nd birthday.

Michele and Murray were high school sweethearts. "We met at the bowling alley when she was in middle school and I was in high school. We dated a little while and then we went our separate ways. Then (years later) a guy that knew us fixed us back up."

Michele and Murray married and had one daughter, Melissa, 15, who is a freshman in high school. "She's doing well," Murray says. "She's a very perceptive girl and she realized what was happening. She still takes it hard sometimes. And she's at an age where a lot of the questions she has, she might prefer to ask her mother. But we're doing okay."

The race is also being held in memory of David Hemela, who died in August of 2001 at age 36. His wife, Michelle, of West Palm Beach, is one of the race organizers.

Hemela was a graduate of the Naval Academy's class of 1987. He earned a bachelor's degree in physical science and, after receiving his naval commission, held positions as a division officer and department head before he resigned from active duty in 1992. He moved to Lake Worth and worked as a scientist for several civilian organizations before he accepted a position as a field scientist for South Florida Water Management District where "he won a lot of awards," Michelle said.

David and Michelle were married in Key Largo in 1998. The couple had a "wonderful friendship" and enjoyed the same activities. Both were happy in their traditional roles. Then in January of 2000, their daughter, Juliana, was born.

"We were on top of the world," Michelle said. "Then on Mother's Day, Dave got up and ran a couple miles on the beach." Later that day, a grand mal seizure struck without warning. At the hospital, they discovered a brain tumor and at first they were optimistic. A week after that, they learned it was a GBM, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer you can have, Michelle said.

But David, the consummate warrior, remained positive. In an email to friends the day after he learned his tumor was cancerous, he wrote: "I can't imagine a person and family more able to fight this challenge than me and mine."

David was sick for about 14 months. He suffered more seizures, sometimes many in the same day, had weakness and then paralysis that made it impossible for him to get out of bed without assistance. Still Dave remained upbeat. In March of 2001, Michelle wrote "Dave's eternal optimism filled my half empty cup."

Hemela was "a spiritual man." He brought Michelle into the church, which she calls "her best asset" in dealing with Dave's illness.

But despite his will to live, David lost the battle in August of 2001. "The toughest thing was losing my best friend," Michelle said. "But I learned to live for today."

Juliana, who turned 4 on Jan. 11, attended a program called Hearts and Hope, which helps kids ages 3-17 deal with the death of a loved one.

Consequently, "she's very open about it," Michelle says. She talks to her daddy in Heaven quite often. But Michelle says, with a bittersweet smile, "She says she wants a daddy on Earth too."

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