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Jim Stavas

Jim Stavas

Four years ago, a rare genetic disorder took the life of a longtime American Canyon firefighter and Napa resident Jim Stavas.

A fire captain with 30 years of service, Stavas fell into a coma in Feb. 2006 after undergoing a sinus operation. Doctors believed he had suffered a stroke. He had not. Stavas suffered from a rare genetic disorder, known as urea cycle disorder.

Stavas had fallen critically ill because ammonia levels in his bloodstream were too high due to an enzyme deficiency triggered by the surgery and medications, his family said. When he woke up from his coma, Stavas, once a strapping fire captain, had the mind of an infant, said his wife, Carol Stavas.

Jim Stavas died on Oct. 1, 2007. He was 57. He left behind Carol, his wife of 27 years, and three children.

On Oct. 30, a nonprofit organization that tries to raise awareness about urea cycle disorder has organized a bike ride in Stavas’ memory. An estimated 50 cyclists are expected to ride from Calistoga’s Logvy Field to Lake Hennessey and back, electing to bike 5, 15, 50 or 100 miles.

The goals are to raise funds for research and awareness on the rare disorder which strikes 1 in about 14,000 people, said Cynthia Le Mons, executive director of the National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation, the Pasadena-based nonprofit that organized the ride.

Organizers, who include Keith Caldwell, a Napa County supervisor and former American Canyon fire chief, are particularly keen on making the disorder better understood among first responders.

Le Mons, who has relatives who have been diagnosed with urea cycle disorder, said the organization wants to make sure people stricken with the disorder are not misdiagnosed. Victims struck with urea cycle disorder may appear intoxicated to public safety personnel.

“The first responders are the first to see a case like this,” Le Mons said.

This is the second annual Cure the Cycle Challenge. The 2010 event, which took place in San Francisco and Marin County, raised $69,000, Le Mons said. This year’s goal is $125,000.

Among the riders will be American Canyon Fire Chief Glen Weeks.

Carol Stavas said she plans to ride a portion of the route with her children. She wants to make sure her husband continues to save lives as he had during his 30 years of service, she said.

“I think Jim has a mission,” she said.

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