SAN LEANDRO -- When Shane Nelson crossed the finish line at this year's New York City Marathon, his thoughts did not drift to his exhaustion or fatigue.

Instead his mind was where it usually is -- on his daughter.

"When I run, no matter how tired I get or any pain I feel, I always think of everything she's been through," said Nelson, a San Leandro police officer. "She's already been through more pain than that."

Nayeli Faith Nelson was born Oct. 22, 2008, with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a rare condition where the diaphragm does not form properly, leaving a hole where the stomach, intestine, liver, spleen and kidneys can rise up to the chest. It occurs in one of every 2,500 births -- with a 50 percent survival rate.

"We were one of the lucky ones," said Nelson, whose daughter underwent surgery at just 2 days old and spent 23 days in the intensive care unit. "She's 2 years old now, and right now there aren't any problems."

Nelson, however, knows not all families are as lucky. That's why he vigorously trained and went through the pain of running 26.2 miles through "the city that never sleeps" -- and in the process raised $3,300 for research into the condition at ¿UC San Francisco, a leader in that field.

Nelson ran the marathon as part of team entry from Global Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, a nationwide nonprofit that helps families of children diagnosed with the condition.


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Nelson and his wife, Elizabeth, started their own, similar nonprofit -- the Nayeli Faith Foundation -- which helps families receiving care at UCSF. In 2011, the growing foundation is hoping to raise about $25,000.

"When we were sitting in the intensive care unit when she was born, we decided we needed to do this," said Nelson, who added that the foundation mainly gives financial help that allows parents to stay near the hospital in San Francisco during treatment, and for basic needs such as food during the recovery period.

To help support the foundation, Nelson has held charity hockey games -- he's from Buffalo, N.Y., a city known for hockey mania -- and bingo events, but earlier this year, he got in touch with Luis Ramirez, president of Global Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, who convinced him to run with the nonprofit's team.

"I had been looking to get back into running," said Nelson, who quit running after his right leg was badly hurt in an on-duty car collision years ago. "So, when this came up, I thought, 'Why not?'"

For three months, Nelson took to the streets four to five times a week, running approximately 30 miles a week to train for his marathon debut.

"It was something I wanted to do," Nelson said. "I had run shorter races before, but not a marathon. It was unbelievable."

The feeling was in direct contrast to what Nelson felt June 4, 2008.

That was when doctors diagnosed Nayeli, and told Nelson she would have about a 30 percent chance to live. That was nearly a year after he and his wife had suffered through one miscarriage and had lost another child -- a son -- at 14 weeks.

Now, more than two years later, Nelson gets to see the motivation for all his fundraising work -- and his running -- everyday when his work shift ends.

Nelson completed the marathon in a little more than five hours -- "I ran the last six miles on heart," he said -- and is forming a 10-member team to run in the San Francisco Marathon at the end of July.

He is hoping the run will raise nearly $20,000 for his foundation. He is also looking at other races -- maybe even an ultramarathon -- to raise money for the cause that has affected him so personally.

"When I run, (Nayeli's) certainly my primary motivation," Nelson said. "But through all of this, we have come in contact with so many families, and some of their kids will never get a chance to run a marathon. They're all my motivation."

To contact or donate to the foundation, e-mail nayelifaithfoundation@gmail.com or send mail to Nayeli Faith Foundation, P.O. Box 3192, Danville, CA 94526. Contact Chris Metinko at 510-293-2479.