Clippings: Hoping with every breath she takes

You’re not supposed to tell people about your birthday wish when you blow out the candles on your cake. Well, to heck with that cautionary note. When members of the Bristol Fire Department supervise my attempt at blowing out what will be a fireball of a cake later this month, I will be making a wish for my niece Kate.
The wish: A new set of lungs for her to rediscover the sensation of breathing on her own without the help of a respirator or the oxygen tank that has been her constant companion for several months now.
Kate is in her early 20s and is battling cystic fibrosis (CF). It’s a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. An estimated 30,000 children and adults in the United States and 70,000 worldwide have CF, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Both Kate and her older sister Megan are among those 30,000. But of course to us, Megan and Kate are not numbers; they are people we love and have known since they were infants.
Kate and Megan have faced their affliction with considerable pluck and courage. Each day brings a fistful of pills to help them digest food, as well as treatments that include someone pounding on their backs to loosen the mucus that inhibits their breathing. Neither of these young women have let CF hold them back. Through it all, they have been stellar students and athletes. Both went on to college. Kate only recently had to suspend her veterinarian schooling abroad when her failing lungs refused to let her continue.
Unlike most of us, when either Megan or Kate catches a routine cold, it can lead to a trip to the hospital for a two-week stay that includes intensive treatments to keep them breathing. With the strength of youth and a supportive family, they’ve been able to leave the hospital after each visit with renewed energy.
Until last year.
Kate was simply not able to fully rebound after a particularly scary medical episode that put her in the intensive-care ward. We all held our collective breath as she struggled to regain hers. She did, but with it came the sobering and perhaps inevitable news that her lungs were just not getting the job done anymore. That led to a trip to a hospital in Massachusetts where physicians looked at her case and quickly decided to place her on the recipients’ list for a new set of lungs.
Though we know Kate’s gain of lungs will be the byproduct of another family’s tragic loss, we are excited that Kate is in line for a major operation that will give her a new lease on life. Now it’s a waiting game, while Kate dutifully wheels around her oxygen tank. She could receive a call at any time telling her to get down to Massachusetts immediately for the transplant operation. We have already held some family gatherings with her parents to plan for that momentous occasion, each of us picking up assignments to ensure for a smooth transition.
And while Kate waits near the phone, a wonderful effort has emerged to raise funds for her post-operative living expenses, as she will have to make frequent visits to the hospital to make sure her body does not reject her new lungs. To that end, several family members have been feverishly knitting hats, mittens, scarves and other items to generate some revenues.
A group of us recently set up a booth to sell some of the items during some basketball games at Mount Abraham Union High School. Several people made purchases; some didn’t, but donated money anyway. My eyes got more than a little misty when we discovered a $500 check in the donation jar from a five-town resident who dropped it in without fanfare. Charitable acts such as this really renew one’s confidence in the future of humanity.
So when I blow out the candles on my cake in a few weeks, I will be making the sincere wish that when it comes to future birthdays, Kate will have more than enough breath to extinguish the candles for me.
More info about Kate can be found at www.gofundme.com/h3vro8.

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