Wednesday, Aug 07 2013 06:27 PM

Second valley fever walk features memorial for Dr. Hans Einstein

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Dr. Hans Einstein developed a friendship with valley fever patient Darryl Carter, who was diagnosed with valley fever and has been through a battle with the disease that almost killed him. Einstein, who died at 89, was one of the world's authorities on valley fever. At right is Carter's son, Christian. This photo was taken in 2011.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Many participants were on hand for the Valley Fever Awareness walk in 2012.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Laresa Bencoma and her dog Chubz get ready to participate in the 2012 Valley Fever Awareness walk at the Kern County Museum along with a few hundred others.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer

Dr. Hans Einstein and Bakersfield's valley fever awareness walk shared a common purpose: to bolster the world's understanding of the deadly disease.

But on the day of the inaugural walk last August, Einstein died at the age of 89 at his Bakersfield home.

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Gates open and registration begins at 7 a.m., walk starts at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Kern County Museum, 3801 Chester Ave. Registration is $20 in advance, $25 the day of the event. Children 12 years old and younger get in free. Dogs on leashes are welcome.

Registration includes a light breakfast and swag bag. Folks who pre-register get a T-shirt. The remaining shirts will be handed out to people who register at the event while supplies last.

The celebration of life for Dr. Hans Einstein begins at 10 a.m. with speakers starting at 11 a.m. Admission is free.

Registration can be done online at Call 800-VAL-FEVR (825-3387) or email with questions.

So it seems fitting that he will be remembered Saturday with a celebration of life following the Valley Fever Americas Foundation's second walk, spearheaded by one of his five daughters.

Dr. Royce Johnson, professor of medicine at UCLA and Kern Medical Center's chief of infectious disease, described Einstein as remarkably loving and a trailblazer in the treatment of the disease.

"He's probably the most important figure in the history of (valley fever)," Johnson said.

Despite Einstein's many contributions to the valley fever realm, Johnson said, he and Einstein still marvelled at the woeful level of awareness of the disease. Raising public awareness at home and in East Coast halls of power remains pivotal to promoting research into and understanding of valley fever, Johnson said.

"Hans was a lot of things but I don't think he was a PR person, and I think his daughters may actually end up being better at promoting valley fever than he was," Johnson said.

After her father's death, Jessica Einstein, the youngest of the five daughters, joined the Valley Fever Americas Foundation as the local nonprofit's director of communications and led the planning for this year's walk, which she also aided last year.

The foundation aims to support research and increase awareness about valley fever. People and animals can contract the disease after inhaling spores of a fungus that lives in soil. The illness plagues parts of the Southwest, including Kern County.

"The main problem is that no one's paying attention and we don't have money for a cure or a vaccine," Jessica Einstein said.

But in the past year, the disease has emerged from the shadows through extensive news coverage and efforts by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, to get research funded. He's also promoting a symposium on the disease to be held in Bakersfield in September.

The planners of this weekend's People & Pets Walk for Valley Fever hope to build on the efforts. The fundraiser will feature a raffle, silent auction and leisurely walk through the Kern County Museum's Pioneer Village peppered with information booths.

Organizers hope folks will be willing to pay a higher registration fee than last year. The cost jumped $10 to $20 for those who register before the event and $25 for people who sign up at it.

"We're trying to support ongoing research that is in the works and there will be more research if we can get more money," said Sandra Larson, the foundation's secretary and past executive director.

The celebration of life for Einstein is free and open to everyone.

Paula Einstein, the second oldest of the daughters, said the celebration is "a thank you, love letter to the town" her father cherished. The memorial will include tribute videos, music, pictures and snacks like ice cream bars and hot dogs, "all the things my dad loved and probably shouldn't have eaten," Paula Einstein joked.

Johnson and other figures from Hans Einstein's life will speak. Attendees will also be invited to share their memories of the beloved physician.

"He was either your doctor or he treated your friend or your family member for valley fever," Jessica Einstein said. "We know there's hundreds of people that would love to pay their respects and this is an opportunity for them to do so."

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