AUGUSTA — Her softball team, family members and friends took great strides Sunday to support Melayna Benner, an 18-year-old Medomak Valley High School senior who will graduate June 12. Benner has cystic fibrosis.

Team Melayna, at 30 to 40 members strong, was among the groups walking in the 2019 Great Strides Walk for cystic fibrosis. May is CF awareness month.

CF is a genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections that eventually limit the patient’s ability to breathe. Benner, of Warren, was diagnosed when she was still in her mother’s womb.

This is the first time she was able to participate in the Augusta walk; last year, she was admitted to the hospital with a lung infection, but Team Melayna still walked.

“(Hospitalization) is par for the course,” said Angela Henderson, Benner’s mother.

Benner is active and participates in sports, including softball — but her daily life is focused around her treatment schedule.

At least twice daily, Benner treats her CF with an inhalant, and she wears a percussion vest that loosens the mucus in her lungs. She also takes several medications, including trial medications, as she follows developing research.

Benner knows nothing else.

“To me, it’s a normal, everyday thing,” she said.

Henderson was amazed by the support.

“I can’t put it into words,” she said, “especially to see how many people she’s touched.”

People participate in the Great Strides walk Sunday in Augusta to raise money for cystic fibrosis. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Team Shelly was walking in remembrance of a loved one.

Rikki Bryant, of Gardiner, and her father, Richard Bryant, were walking for her sister and his daughter, Shelly Bryant, who died in 2010. She was 9.

“It feels good (to walk in her memory),” Rikki Bryant said. “I wish she could be here.”

Rikki Bryant holds a photo of her sister, Shelly Bryant, who died in 2010. Shelly had Cystic Fibrosis. Rikki, her father and others walked on Team Shelly during the Augusta Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis Sunday. Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

Walkers participating in this year’s event tallied 106, which made co-chair of the walk, Lynn Blanche, cheer. While it was not a record year for attendance, rain showers threatened to dull participation. The walk started at the Union Street parking lot for the Kennebec River Rail Trail.

Great Strides walks also took place in Bangor, Bar Harbor, Portland and York.

Blanche, of Augusta, and her husband, Josh, who co-chair the walk said the time and the effort they make for the event is worth it. Both of their children, Carter, 11, and Emma, 8, have CF.

Having CF means Carter and Emma can’t relate like other siblings do — they can’t hug, kiss, borrow each other’s toys, share utensils or roughhouse.

Within arms reach of each other, CF patients risk cross infection.

“It’s very isolating,” she said.

There are around 200 pediatric patients in Maine with CF, said Blanche and former chair, Kathy Murphy. Now the number of adult patients in Maine is greater than the number of pediatric patients, which hadn’t always been so. That means treatment is working.

All of the proceeds from the event benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which supports research on the disease. Last year, the walk raised $39,000. It was too early for walk volunteers to know how much they collected this year.

“We’re looking for a cure,” Blanche said.

Before Lynn and Josh Blanche started chairing the walk in 2013, it was organized by Murphy and her husband, Lee, also of Augusta. They started in 1984 before the foundation was established, and their motive was to support their son, Shawn, who has CF.

CF had almost taken away his ability to breathe.

“It was like he was breathing through a straw,” Kathy Murphy said.

When Shawn was 40, he had a double lung transplant.

“In Shawn’s first breath, he said, ‘Happy birthday, Mom,’” Lee Murphy said.

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