Father Fitzgerald runs marathon to help grieving family

HANAHAN — One of the coldest weekends of the year didn't keep Father Edward Fitzgerald from running 26 miles to raise funds for a grieving family.

Father Fitzgerald, pastor of Divine Redeemer Church, ran the 26.2-mile Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon in four hours and 24 minutes on Saturday, Dec. 9 to benefit the family of Elizabeth "Lisa" Fuerte. Fuerte was a parishioner who died in September at age 32 after a two-year struggle with a heart condition. She is survived by her husband, Jose, and two small children.

The temperature at the start of the race was 18 degrees, but Father Fitzgerald said the cold didn't bother him once he got going.

"When you start running your body heats up to about 15 degrees higher than normal," he said.

He also came prepared for below-freezing temperatures with running tights, a long-sleeved thermal shirt and gloves. His parents were on hand to offer support.

The priest's strongest motivation, however, was completing the marathon he'd dedicated to the Fuerte family after witnessing their faith-filled struggle for the past two years.

He decided to make the marathon a fundraiser for Fuerte and her family to help with medical bills and other financial needs. He raised money through sponsorships for the race.

The last two years of Fuerte's life, while difficult, were a "wonderful pro-life story," Father Fitzgerald said.

In 2004, Fuerte started having heart problems while pregnant with her second child, a daughter. Doctors suggested she end the pregnancy because of the strain on her heart, but she refused to do so because of her strong Catholic faith.

She delivered Elizabeth Adriana Fuerte in her 26th week of pregnancy, and Father Fitzgerald baptized the infant in the intensive care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina.

After the difficult pregnancy, Fuerte's heart function continued to decline and she eventually underwent a heart transplant in early September at Duke University Medical Center.

Father Fitzgerald said her body did not reject the heart, but her other organs were weakened and she could not recover from the surgery.

Parishioners at Divine Redeemer and other members of the community had raised $10,974 as of Dec. 9 to help pay the family's medical expenses. Donations also came from jars set up in classrooms at Divine Redeemer School. In three months, the students raised about $2,300.

"It was a wonderful experience to be able to do this," Father Fitzgerald said. "The Fuerte family has a strong faith background, and it means a lot to be able to help them after their loss."

Knauss is a staff writer for The Catholic Miscellany.

Republished with permission of The Catholic Miscellany, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston. This article was published December 21, 2006. Official Web site: catholic-doc.org.