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Torch ignites hope after 10-year illness

SHARE Torch ignites hope after 10-year illness

OREM ? A kerosene torch burns outside the home of Don and Pat West, while an official commemorative Olympic torch stand sits empty on the Iiving-room piano bench inside.

Don West stuck the camping-style torch into the front lawn Oct. 4, the day the Salt Lake Organizing Committee unveiled the names of Olympic torch relay participants, his wife included. He lights the fire every day.

Peering out the front-room window might be as close as Pat West ever comes to a flame, Olympic or otherwise.

Due to a medical condition that left her allergic to almost everything, the 59-year-old woman hasn't spent any significant time outside the house for 10 years. Even the kitchen stove doesn't heat up in the West home because cooking odors or steam aggravate her frail body. All the cooking is done in a converted backyard storage shed, the "shed and breakfast."

Subsisting on only mashed potatoes, boiled carrots and water ? anything else makes her sick ? Pat West guesses she weighs less than 100 pounds.

She might never place the silver-and-glass 2002 Winter Games torch into the metal stand on which "Patricia McEwan West" is etched.

The Wests are trying to arrange a special treatment for what's called multiple chemical sensitivity through doctors in Denver, but it might not come in time to carry the flame ? or at all. She is considering donning a face mask and running ? actually being pushed in a wheelchair ? without it, though at great risk.

"It would mean everything to me," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "I'm determined to do it. I've got people behind me."

Don West is one those believers. So is Mike Taylor, her "e-mail buddy."

"I just know she's going to get a miracle," Taylor said.

West was selected to carry the torch because she nominated Taylor, who suffered permanent brain damage from a collision in a baseball game while on an LDS Church mission 35 years ago. After learning to talk and walk all over again, Taylor, now 55, graduated from college, wrote a book, successfully lobbied the Legislature on bills and taught hundreds of people computer skills at Deseret Industries.

Pat West found him inspiring. When Olympic organizers learned her story, they asked her to run the torch with Taylor as an "inspirational pair."

"I'm praying that it will happen in Orem," Taylor said. The relay is scheduled to pass through the Utah County city Feb. 6.

Though in the same ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pat West and Taylor never knew each other well until ward leaders asked the congregation to e-mail the homebound woman a couple of years ago.

Taylor regularly passes along inspirational notes or jokes. A cyber friendship blossomed. "I call her my computer genie," he said.

During restless nights, Pat West said, she will see the e-mail light flashing on her computer. Often, it's a short message from Taylor.

"And those little things get to be big things," she said.

Taylor tried to do a huge thing for her late last year.

A doctor in Denver consented to travel to Orem to administer treatment to Pat West, a five-day ordeal consisting of hundreds of injections, but backed out due to concerns about Utah licensure laws.

Taylor enlisted two state legislators to review the law and possibly draft a bill allowing the out-of-state care. Legislative researchers eventually determined an exemption does exist that would permit the doctor to practice in Utah.

"He has been a trooper for her," said Margaret Dayton, R?Orem.

Pat West, too, is all about doing little things ? and big things ? from home. She tries to boost others' spirits with photography and poetry. She participates in church work through audio or video tapes she prepares for Sunday lessons. She once organized an effort to get a headstone for a Pleasant Grove woman whose grave went more than six years without one.

"She does a lot of things right here from the house that a lot of people don't do that can get around," Don West said.

The quest now is to get out of the house to a carry the Olympic flame.

At her request, Don West plans to obtain a wheelchair, bundle up his wife and wheel her around outside one night to see how she does.

"I am motivated," she said. "I do have the (Olympic torch) stand. That requires a lot of faith."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com