Danny Bessette, now 21, is amazed at the advances made in CF research since he was pictured on the cover of Science magazine in 1989.
Commitment recently talked with Danny Bessette, a 21-year-old college graduate, whose charming smile graced the cover of Science magazine in 1989 when the CF gene was discovered. Diagnosed with CF at eight weeks old, Danny spent much of his childhood in and out of the hospital because of digestive problems and chronic pneumonia. Today, with the help of advances in CF treatments, Danny’s health has improved while his hospital visits have become less frequent. In May 2006, Danny graduated from American University with a degree in criminal justice, and currently coaches a hockey team for teenagers in Reston, Va. Still recognizably the bright-eyed and handsome boy of the Science cover, Danny spoke openly about his experiences with cystic fibrosis and his hopes for the future.
At age four, you appeared on the cover of Science. When you look at that picture of yourself, what do you think about?
I think of all the doctors, the nurses…of the work they’ve put in and the research that’s been done. I think of the CF Foundation. It’s pretty incredible where they’ve come from and where they’re going. I think about all that’s been done for me.
How do you think CF research has affected you since 1989?
The way they used to treat me was to pump me full of steroids. I was actually a chubby kid because of this. I can’t even imagine if I had stayed with this treatment, how unhealthy that would’ve been. The advancements they’ve made since then are incredible and help me big time. Right now I’m on hypertonic saline, which is basically just salt water. I inhale it through a nebulizer. At first it made me cough and cough, but after about a week of using it—it really cleared me up. It did its job. Definitely.
What’s a typical day of treatments for you?
Along with hypertonic saline, I do other aerosols each day—either Pulmozyme ® or TOBI ®. I also take azithromycin three times a week and vitamins every day. When I eat, I take five or six enzymes, which break down the food. You think it’s a lot, but as you’re doing it, you just don’t think about it any more. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I realized that if I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, I might not live past 40.
Do you ever miss a treatment?
It doesn’t take much to throw back pills, but aerosols are a little harder. I’m supposed to do them twice a day, but when you’re running late…well, it doesn’t always get done.
Have there ever been certain things you couldn’t do because of CF?
I’ve never had someone tell me not to do something because of CF. My parents always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. I had hockey skates on by the time I was four. I also played soccer and tried football and baseball. Through all this, my parents would never run up to the coach and say: “He has CF. Don’t push Danny too hard.” It really helped me to be raised that way.
Have people treated you differently because you have CF—in school, for instance?
I’ve really never felt different. If someone asked if I had cystic fibrosis, I’d talk about it. During my junior year at Bishop O’Connell High School, I spoke about having CF during an annual fund-raiser in honor of a former student who died of CF. The fund-raiser was a huge deal my senior year—1,600 kids came out to support this one cause. It was amazing. I still go back every year to talk to the kids during the assembly to kick off the event.
Did CF affect your college experience?
My experience wasn’t much different from anyone else’s. I had roommates. They saw my treatments, and I told them about CF. It wasn’t an issue for us. I also joined a fraternity. Girls that I’ve dated haven’t acted differently toward me.
There was only one semester that CF really got to me. I was trying to work full-time and go to school full-time. I just ran myself down. My doctor put me in the hospital in the middle of the semester for two and a half weeks. School suffered that semester, but my professors were understanding. When I finally graduated, I felt great. I made it through—final exams, good grades and all.
Do you think about your health every day?
I notice the effects of CF from year to year, but not day to day. All through life I’ve played hockey and soccer. That has helped me more than anything. In college, I stopped playing as much, and now I can see my health has declined.
In May, I played my first game of club hockey at American. I would skate for 30 seconds and need a break. I can still run. I can still play, but I’m just not as capable as I used to be. Right now, I’m trying to get back in shape.
Do you have any advice for parents of kids with CF?
When parents ask me if their kid should play sports, I say, “Don’t push them into excess, but definitely encourage them to run around.” In all the other CF patients I’ve met, the ones that are more active are much healthier.
How is your health now?
I was in the hospital for most of May. I graduated and two days later got put in the hospital. I had no job and nothing to do, so they parked me there for three weeks and put me on IV antibiotics to fight infections. They also made sure that I did all my therapies at least three times a day. During the three weeks, I basically rested and got recharged.
What are your plans now that you’ve graduated college?
I’m not sure. I am interested in the FBI, but I’m also thinking about law school.
What advice would you give to a young person struggling with CF?My girlfriend yells at me all the time because I tend to say things bluntly, but I’d definitely be blunt. I’d tell them they have no other choice. You have it. Deal with it. Don’t waste your time. Go out and have fun. Do what you want. Don’t let anything stop you!