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Firefighters battle muscular dystrophy

As a child, when Doriann Myers saw roadside firefighters collecting donations in their fire boots, it meant the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon was happening soon.

Now, a black and yellow boot brimming with money represents something different — a potential cure for Myers’ son, Tyler.

The 12-year-old boy has been involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, or MDA, since he was diagnosed with the neuromuscular disease as a 2-year-old.

“It just started as a place to go, a place for information,” Myers said. “Now we’ve built a new family.”

She and Tyler were on hand Tuesday to help launch this year’s boot drive in Las Vegas with several local firefighters. This will be the 48th year firefighters nationwide collect for the cause.

The initiative has roots in Las Vegas. Clark County Fire Department spokesman Scott Allison said four firefighters started collecting money for muscular dystrophy 50 years ago and the grassroots approach grew nationwide.

Similar drives have raised more than $320 million for MDA since then.

“Every year we say we want to raise $1 more than we did the year before,” Allison said. “These kids have to fight every day. It makes you step back and look at what we have.”

Funds from the project go toward research for 43 neuromuscular diseases and provide resources to families and patients. The Myers family is one of 476 families in Southern Nevada that have benefited from MDA. Tyler has attended its Lake Tahoe summer camp for five years. Myers said the organization also helped buy his scooter and wheelchair and link him with doctors.

The collection effort has suffered in recent years.

The approach to gathering donations changed three years ago when North Las Vegas firefighter Rafael Gomez was seriously injured after a car hit him while he was collecting near Cheyenne Avenue and Losee Road. Firefighters now collect donations in front of grocery stores.

Gomez recovered but collection totals did not.

Local firefighters raised $571,000 in 2005, the year Gomez was hit, but have barely hit $200,000 since then.

In addition, criticisms have arisen that firefighters collected while on duty, which is against the rules.

Despite the bumps in the road, Allison said the intentions are still good.

“This is a long tradition and partnership,” he said. “I would love to see these 43 diseases go away in my lifetime.”

There is no cure or treatment for muscular dystrophy but research efforts are vigorous, said Kristina Forzano, MDA district director.

Tyler said he has learned a lot from the firefighters and the peers he meets at MDA camp each year.

“You don’t always want to whine about having muscular dystrophy,” he said. “Think about the things you do have instead of the things you don’t.”

Contact reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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