Karrie Hempstead Runs Des Moines for Brother

Karrie Hempstead ran her first 5k in 2004. Her sisters, Katie and Janene, had recently taken up running and they encouraged Karrie to give it a try as well. Since then, Karrie has run many races both with her sisters and on her own. In 2014, Katie encouraged Karrie to run her first half-marathon. She helped Karrie organize her training program and served as part coach and part cheerleader. Karrie’s husband and sisters all cheered her on as she crossed the finish line of the Dam to Dam half-marathon. Though running has been a fun stress-reliever for Karrie, now it has become something much more meaningful. She, Katie and Janene are running for a personal cause: their brother’s fight against pancreatic cancer.

Karrie Hempstead with her husband and sisters
Karrie Hempstead, after finishing her first half-marathon, posing with her husband and sisters

In June, 2015, after months of experiencing digestive pains, Keith Wilgenbusch was diagnosed with ampullary cancer. This type of cancer arises in the Ampullary Vater, where the bile and pancreatic ducts merge into the duodenum. Keith had a Whipple surgery at the Mayo Clinic in August, 2015. At that time, he was determined to be free of cancer. He received chemotherapy as a precaution following his surgical procedure. Unfortunately, this was not the end of Keith’s experience with cancer.

In May, 2016, testing revealed that Keith had a new tumor in his pancreas. This tumor was declared to be inoperable. Since that time, he has been going to chemotherapy every other week. He wears a pump that delivers a continuous stream of medications to his body for 48 hours. The new chemotherapy combination can be particularly hard on the body, so he also is given IV fluids to prevent dehydration.  Keith’s most recent testing showed that his tumor is currently stable. The plan is to maintain the same treatment program going forward.

Over the last year, Keith has battled pancreatitis and bile duct blockages. Repeated attempts at opening his bile duct with a stent failed. Doctors finally had to insert an external drain tube. Fortunately, he has remained at home and out of the hospital for the last couple of months.

Karrie Inspired to Run By Her Brother Keith

The Wilgenbusch family ran a farm in rural Iowa. The eight children of the family spent a great deal of time together, working and playing on the farm. Keith, who is four years older than Karrie, was always a tremendous influence in Karrie’s life. She says, “He has always been the protective brother, strong and independent. If you need anything, he would be there. He continues to be a strong and independent person through this diagnosis.” These days, Keith still lives and works on the family farm with his wife, Jill and his children.

Keith Wilgenbusch with his family
Keith Wilgenbusch with his family

Karrie lives in Central City, Iowa with her husband of 16 years, Jeff, and their children, Phillip, 12 and Nathan, 10. She works as a physical therapy assistant at a hospital. She helps patients learn their exercises so that they may regain strength and mobility and return home. Her family, including her distance-running husband, fully support her running.

Running is a Family Affair

Following her half-marathon debut in 2014, Karrie and her sisters returned to the Dam to Dam in 2015. In 2016, Karrie was looking for new races when she discovered that Hogwarts Running Club was sponsoring a virtual half-marathon for Project Purple. She and Katie signed up and completed the race. From there, they began investigating other running opportunities with the Project Purple team.

The sisters saw Project Purple is the official partner with the Des Moines Marathon. Katie signed on first, followed shortly thereafter by Karrie. With the marathon quickly approaching in October, Karrie reports, “Training is going well and I keep accountable with my sisters, as they are running it too. This will be my 3rd half-marathon.”

Helping Others Through Running

Running has provided Karrie with many benefits over the years. She explains, “Running has helped me with getting into shape, dealing with the stresses of life and being more active with my family. I have two boys and they rode their bikes while I ran. Now they are getting interested in running. It is fun to be outside in nature and share it with family.” In fact, Karrie and Nathan ran a 5k together on the Fourth of July.

The Hempstead family
The Hempstead family

Karrie is looking forward to running in Des Moines with her family and the Project Purple team. She and her sisters are preparing for the half-marathon, while her husband will be running the full. For now, as Keith engages in his second fight against cancer, his sisters will be running in his honor. Keith, the ultimate family man, who would do anything to help a friend or family member in need, inspires his whole family with his courage and positive attitude.  Karrie says, “He has shown his family hope, love and faith during this time. I want to be that strong!”

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