Patrick took first place in individual Irish step dancing at the Louisville Feis, held at the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center.
“There is not much we can do for your son,” the doctors grimly told Mary Jo and John Joyce. “He probably isn’t going to live much longer.” Patrick was only 9 months old.
For a moment, life stopped. It didn’t seem real. Weren’t they just celebrating Patrick’s arrival? Celebrations shifted to deep mourning. “You think you have a healthy child. The pregnancy and birth went fine,” says Mary Jo. “Then we found out he was going to die. We were devastated.”
In just seven short months since Patrick’s diagnosis of cystic fibrosis at 8 weeks old, his weight had plummeted from the 75th percentile to the 0 percentile. Desperate to help their child, the Joyces went to see well-known CF expert Carl Doershuk, M.D., who agreed that Patrick was in poor shape. “He told us that if Patrick got the flu, he would probably die, ” Mary Jo recalls.
For six weeks, Mary Jo and John worked around the clock with the care center team at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. Patrick received all his meals through a tube and was put on different antacids and enzymes. As he began gaining weight, his health started to improve. With the help of Rainbow Babies’ multidisciplinary approach to care—now adopted by all Foundation-accredited care centers—Patrick has not been back in the hospital since.
Patrick, now 16, considers himself “a regular kid.” He loves going to school and playing basketball. “He has over a 4.0 GPA and takes all honors classes,” his mother proudly notes. He’s independent and learning to take his medications, including Pulmozyme®, enzymes and antacids, on his own. “He does his vest and aerosols.”
He has also discovered a real passion for Irish step dancing. “When Patrick was little, he liked to dance all the time. I thought, ‘What am I going to do with a boy who likes to dance?’” Mary Jo laughs. What they did was enroll Patrick, then 8, in an Irish step dancing class.
Today, Patrick practices three times a week for seven hours total. He also volunteers as an instructor for a beginner’s class. His dance studio travels around the Cleveland area performing at nursing homes and various fund-raisers. “I don’t let CF hold me down. I do what all the other kids do, and I push myself just as hard as they do—if not harder,” he says.
Patrick’s hard work has helped him dance his way to the top. In April 2006, his dance team competed in the World Championships of Irish Dancing—known as the “Olympics of Irish dance”—in Belfast, Ireland. During his first trip out of the United States, Patrick helped his team take third in choreography and fifth in drama. Each summer he also competes in dozens of competitions around the country—regularly finishing among the best.
“I’ve always believed that only you can set your own boundaries,” Patrick says. “Just because you have CF, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, that you’re not strong enough or big enough. Don’t let anything get in your way.”
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