Her Longest Marathon

A Runner's Race to Survive

Randy A. Birken, M.D.

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Paperback - ISBN: 978-1-57733-226-8, 164 pp., 6 x 9, paperback, $15.95

Hardcover - ISBN: 978-1-57733-141-1, $24.95

Life can change suddenly. A life-long athlete and runner, Joyce Lance was out doing her morning run
in preparation for an upcoming marathon, and nearly lost her life
after suddenly being hit by a car at 50 mph.

October 20, 2000, Joyce Lance, a fifty-two year old Houstonian, a transplant from the stark heartlands of Minnesota, raised on a farm and a survivor of past adversity, was about to face her greatest personal obstacle.

At five am, only four miles into her twenty-mile training run, Joyce was hit, head-on, by a speeding car, sending her to the hard, wet, morning pavement, broken, bleeding, and barely alive. So begins her new passage into survival--and an arduous recovery fueled by love, support, and spirit.

Her Longest Marathon is an investigative tale written by a medical doctor using hospital charts, police records, interviews, and letters to compose this account of a remarkable woman, assumed dead by an EMS fireman who thought she would make a good organ donor.

Rich with inspiration, this book reveals the special courage of an extraordinary personal recovery, from the gory accident, to a trauma center's hours of resuscitation, numerous surgeries, and months of physical and mental rehabilitation--as seen through the eyes of a son, family, friends, doctors, nurses, and the resiliently disciplined and unwavering faith of Joyce herself. Full of the complexity of human drama, Her Longest Marathon is a compelling tale of inner strength and equanimity.

"Because not many people are marathon runners who get hit by a car going fifty miles an hour, my accident is an extreme example of what can happen. I believe I can help others deal with unwanted events in their lives.

"I truly believe that we all have it within ourselves to draw from this inner strength to overcome and conquer the unexpected.

"We all have the ability to change and to overcome obstacles. It's deep within us. We just have to find it inside."

Joyce Lance


"Her Longest Marathon relates the deeply personal story of one woman's traumatic injury and her inspiring resilience. Randy Birken, a physician as well as an author, writes with meticulous care and heartfelt compassion of Joyce's journey from marathon runner to crippled comatose patient to miraculous survivor. Readers come to understand the complex ways in which a traumatic event impacts the victim's family, friends, and co-workers, and they find in Joyce a heroine who embraces life with enthusiasm and gratitude. Birken offers fascinating details of the Texas Medical Center and the courage and skill of its medical professionals, never shortchanging the humanity of the individuals who people his story. In Joyce's run for her life, Birken creates a metaphor for anyone who has ever faced a challenge." Rosemary Poole-Carter, author of Women of Magdalene

"A very inspiring story of Joyce's life before, during, and after a tragic accident. We get a glimpse of the inner strength she has. As a fellow runner I can't help but think that all the marathons and the preparations for them gave her some of that ability. This is a great account of how God proves that He will never give us more than we can bear, and how He uses family, friends, and the medical doctors and team members to help her along the road to recovery, and back to her wonderful new life." Julie Donelson, 2007 Oklahoma Runner of the Year

"Her Longest Marathon is compelling read for anyone who has trained for a marathon or logged long runs out on the roads. Joyce Lance's genuine love of running is shared by many, but the tenacity and indefatigable courage she displays in her long road to recovery is what makes her story so inspiring." Brian Metzler, managing editor, Running Times

"The book is a great and appropriate tribute to her [Joyce Lance] and the many thousands of … courageous people, their families and physicians who have stood up and braved the long and difficult course in the restoration of their dignity and persona after acquiring brain injury. This work will have a major impact on the world of neuroscience." Ralph Lilly, MD

Table of Contents


1. Memorial Park
2. EMS—Matthew, My Hero
3. Accident Report
4. Joyce
5. First Meeting
6. Co-Workers
7. Lila’s Notes
8. Meeting Lila
9. Don
10. Al Jeter, RN
11. Convincing Peter
12. Meeting Peter
13. Dr. John Cassidy--Physician, Medical Administrator, Humanist
14. Remembering Beacon--Joyce’s Words
15. Dr. Lilly--Neurological Savior
16. Medical Records--Memorial Hermann Hospital
17. John Klein--Bank Chairman of the Board
18. Joyce’s Mission
19. Owatonna, Minnesota--Joyce’s Hometown
20. Joyce’s Words
21. Connie Bock--Joyce’s Childhood Friend
22. Dr. Jeffrey Tucker--Orthopedic Wizard
23. MeetingDr. Tucker
24. Dr. Duke
25. Dr. Duke Redux
26. Michael Brummerhop--Bank President and CEO
27. Joyce
28. Last Meeting

Appendix: Medical Records from Beacon Health


Joyce’s Mission

My purpose is to communicate to a greater audience that “stuff happens,” and that we have it within us to go forward with our lives. Since my accident in 2000, I have talked to individuals about the challenges that they or their loved ones’ face. A manager that works for me asked to have lunch. Her husband had been told that he had bile duct cancer and that a liver transplant was not an option. His chances of survival were less than one percent. As we talked, I asked her, the wife, if she remembered what the doctors had said about my chances of survival. She recalled they were very small and that in the next seventy-two hours we would know. I survived, am working, and have a wonderful life. I offered to have her and her husband fly to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to get a second opinion and stay with my family. She and her husband researched it further and met a doctor here in Houston. The husband had the transplant, is still alive, and working and healthy after approximately three years.

On an individual basis, I have used my experience to help others, whether it be medical, psychological, financial, or concerns about spouses, family and children. Because not many people are marathon runners who get hit by a car going fifty miles an hour, my accident is an extreme example of what can happen. I believe I can help others deal with unwanted events in their lives.

I am willing in any way to help other people help themselves. Maybe it’s not just the physical, but rather something that happens to a loved one, a financial dilemma, a divorce, problems with children, etc. I truly believe that we all have it within ourselves to draw from this inner strength to overcome and conquer the unexpected. I remain steadfast in my commitment to help others based on my accident and the amazing and wonderful support I have received and continue to receive. I can give back to people who I encounter on an individual basis.

As I think of all of the wonderful people I am surrounded by, I cannot have, or do not have, any thoughts, feelings, or emotions other than positive ones. I have wonderful friends, my son, grandchildren, Don, my family, and so many others I work with and partnership with in community activities. Because none of us can be in every part of our communities and the various community organizations, I have focused on working with educational foundations and five school districts to support education and preparing students for the real work after school. I get much happiness from these relationships.

I will not say that every moment of my life since the accident has been a “high.” Last evening, Don was making dinner and I bent down to pick something up and landed on the floor--my greatest dilemma--how do I get up? Tears came to my eyes, but I wanted to figure out how to get up by myself. I pushed the hassock against the chair and against the wall for leverage and tried to push up with my arms. I cried because I couldn’t get leverage with my feet. Don came in the TV room and gently asked how he could help. He placed his feet to help with the traction I needed and then, I was able to get up to the hassock. I cried and cried because I felt helpless. My biggest fear is falling--I can only fall like a tree and then figure out how to get up. Don has a wonderful way of helping while not “helping.” Peter and many of my friends and co-workers are the same....

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2008

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