Marathon Runners with a cause

Mike Greener/Chronicle

Wendy Gwinner and Audrey Baker are running in the Missoula marathon to raise awareness for Arteriovenous Malformation, a condition that affected Baker's sister, Erica, just three days after she gave birth to twin girls. 

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Audrey Baker and Wendy Gwinner have embraced the challenge before.

The avid runners, mothers and co-workers at the Bozeman Deaconess Cancer Center know what it’s like to lace up sneakers and lose oneself while gallivanting through one of the area’s many trails. They’ve run in marathons before as part of hospital fundraising efforts.

Baker approached Gwinner in March with the idea of taking part in today’s Missoula Marathon. Without hesitation, Gwinner agreed.

The pair, as Gwinner later put it, is not “20 years old anymore” and had to set aside time in addition to family obligations and full-time jobs — Baker is a cancer registrar and Gwinner an oncology social worker — to train.

There has been added motivation this time around. The pair is running for a bigger cause and a greater purpose.

“This is for someone special to both of us; for a friend,” Gwinner said Wednesday. “Every time we’re out there and it’s hot and it hurts, we think about Erica. If she can do what she’s doing, we can do this.”

Erica Lomont is Baker’s sister. The 32-year-old from Fort Wayne, Ind., suffered a massive hemorrhage in her brain as a result of arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a rare congenital condition that involves abnormal connections between the brain’s arteries and veins, just five days after giving birth to twin girls in March.

“I remember saying, ‘It feels like there’s nothing I can do, but maybe we can (run a marathon) to raise support and awareness,’” Baker recalled.

“I was a mess, my parents were a mess, her kids were confused. I just wanted to do something.”

Added Gwinner, “I said ‘Absolutely.’ Absolutely I wanted to do it, to help her and Erica.”

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Pete Lomont heard it constantly.

“I can’t imagine what you are going through,” was always the response when people heard about his wife’s harrowing ordeal.

A few days after adding twins to a brood that includes two boys, Erica Lomont complained of headaches; she screamed multiple times that her head was going to explode, according to her husband.

The ordeal nearly cost Lomont her life.

Family members assumed it was a complication from the epidural or another aspect of the pregnancy, but Lomont was diagnosed with AVM.

The condition occurs when arteries in the brain connect directly to nearby veins without having the normal vessels, or capillaries, between them.

Erica was unconscious when she returned to the hospital and for much of the first week after surgery.

“Somebody else said that to me too, they can’t imagine it,” Pete Lomont said in a telephone conversation Friday. “Every time somebody says that, I want to say, ‘You can’t? Not only can’t you, I hope, I pray to God that you never do.’

“One day we’ve got these two beautiful girls and everything is great, we’re getting into the slap-happy phase of getting one or two hours of sleep at night. … I’ve described it as being on the biggest emotional roller coaster I’ve ever been on in my life.”

Among other emotions that consumed her, Baker felt helpless. She had dealt with some unimaginable, difficult situations before, but this involved family and the situation was unfolding far away.

Baker took a trip home to see her sister immediately and help care for the children.

She said her sister opened one eye at the end of the first week, but Erica’s only response to any kind of stimulus was to tense her muscles. Baker noted that response is not typical; it tends to mean the body perceives all stimuli as stress.

While at her parents’ home in Fort Wayne, Baker stayed in constant contact with Gwinner. The close friends conferred a lot, with Gwinner consoling Baker as much and as often as possible.

It was during those conversations that Baker’s idea was generated.

It comes to fruition at

6 a.m. today at the annual Missoula Marathon. The duo will wear personalized T-shirts with “” scrawled across the front and plan to chat up anyone and everyone they come across in the Garden City.

Baker set up the website as well as a Facebook page to spread awareness, keep people updated on Erica’s progress and seek donations. Her current goal is $5,000; Baker has raised roughly $1,700 in the past month alone.

According to both Baker and Pete Lomont, Erica Lomont has gone through an “amazing recovery.” She first wiggled her toe on command while still in intensive care and has graduated to striding with the aid of a walker. She uses a tablet to help communicate along with a video chat service called Tango.

Lomont began speaking again roughly three weeks ago and now recognizes and responds to family members. She recently moved from a rehabilitation facility in Fort Wayne to the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana in Indianapolis.

“They call her a rock star down here,” Pete Lomont said.

“It’s been slow but steady progress,” added Baker, who talks with her parents and brother-in-law frequently.

“She’s just been getting better and better and better, making progress every day.”

Lomont noted that help — from taking care of the four children to visiting his wife to offering much-needed moral support — has come from a myriad of family members and friends.

In one year’s time, far after the marathon is done and this ordeal is behind them, what might his wife say?

“Thank you. She’s going to say thank you,” Lomont said. “And from my point of view, there’s nothing more that I can say than ‘Thank you.’”

Gidal Kaiser can be reached at or 582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @gidalkaiser

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