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'Bobby's Brigade' gearing up to march again

Posted by Michele Morgan Bolton  March 3, 2010 11:22 AM

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INBob and Bobby.JPG
Bob Coughlin Sr. with his son, Bobby, 7, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis.

Although it's still more than two months away, supporters are already on alert it's time to start limbering up for the annual Dedham Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis.

This year, more than 1,000 local walkers, known as "Bobby's Brigade," are expected to converge on Sunday, May 16, at the Endicott Estate from Dedham, Westwood, Walpole, Medfield, Boston, and other communities to raise money for research and a cure. Registration begins at 11 a.m., and the walk steps off at noon. A big picnic lunch and other festivities await teams on their return to the East Street mansion.

The annual event that is part of the national Great Strides walk-a-thon, is held in honor of Dedham resident Bobby Coughlin, 7, who has the genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. His father, Bob Coughlin Sr., is the CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and a former town selectman and state representative.

Coughlin was the honorary chairman of the town's first CF walk in 1996, seven years before his own son would be born with the disease that clogs the lungs with thick mucus that also obstructs the pancreas.

Neither he nor his wife, Christine, knew they were carriers of the defective gene until 21 weeks into her pregnancy with their third child.

"I refer to that as an ironic twist of fate that felt like getting kicked in the chin," Coughlin said. "But, in life, things happen for a reason."

Coughlin said Bobby is a strong, remarkable little boy who has been doing very well.

"He's tough,'' he said. "And, he's positive. I asked him if he knows why he has the disease, and he said, 'I think God knows that I can handle it.'"

Last year the local walk raised more than $240,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the nonprofit itself has raised and invested more than $300 million in its own research, Coughlin said.

Because of the determination and drive of the foundation, he said patients like Bobby are living longer and now more than one-third of people with CF live beyond the age of 18.

When he left public life, Coughlin said he thought about joining the CF Foundation, but he said he knows he's in the right place at the right time.

"I go to work every day trying to cure my son's disease,'' he said. "Now, I represent every company doing the research out there for every disease there is."

To pre-register or donate online, go to http://www.cff.org/great_strides/.

To donate directly to Bobby's Brigade, see http://www.cff.org/Great_Strides/dsp_DonationPage.cfm?walkid=6537&idUser=221795 or send a check made payable to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to Bob Coughlin, 125 Adams Street, Dedham, MA 02026.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at mmbolton1@verizon.net.

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