Above & Beyond
Tara Parker (left) with her mother Roxie
Twenty-two-year-old Tara Parker, just three semesters shy of graduation at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., has a “must-do” list a mile long.
Although she’s an upbeat, hardworking, glass half-full kind of person, she has an extra hurdle to overcome in everything she does.
At six-months old, her parents learned she had cystic fibrosis.
Her intense treatment regimen began early. “I took 12 pills before every meal and up to 60 pills a day. I’ve had six sinus operations in my life. It’s never been easy,” she recalls.
By the time she was 14, Parker had developed cirrhosis of the liver, but doctors said her liver was too healthy to be considered for a transplant. So she went on with her life and remained optimistic.
Making the Most of It
At Plant City High School, in her typical do-it-all style, Parker made the most of her free time by becoming a member of the cheerleading squad and a representative on the student council.
But during her sophomore year, her health began to decline. Parker was added to the liver transplant list and began a steroid regimen that caused weight gain and puffiness. And — as if high school isn’t hard enough already — the rumor mill began to churn as her stomach became distended and bloated.
“Image wise, it was just really hard. I didn’t want to face the other kids every day,” Parker remembers.
So sick that she needed to stay home, Parker took classes online through her junior year. In 2004, her health improved enough that she could stop the steroids and return to school for her senior year.
“I wanted to make the most of my high school years,” she recalls. “I had a lot of friends that supported me so it made it easier.”
Although her daily treatments still commanded much of her time, she was able to reclaim her spot as a student council member, cheerleader and was even crowned homecoming queen of her graduating class.
In the fall, Parker enrolled at Southeastern University, still uncertain of when she might receive the liver transplant she needed to maintain an active life. Just three months after she began college, Parker received a life-changing call. At 6:30 in the morning, she found out she had a new liver waiting for her in Gainesville, Fla. Doctors flew Parker by helicopter to Shands Hospital while her parents raced north on the interstate. Parker received a liver-pancreas transplant and to this day, she says: “I experienced a miracle.”
Finding the Positive
Since her successful transplant surgery, Parker doesn’t recognize her own medicine cabinet, having reduced her pill intake to eight pills per day. She still wakes up extra early every morning to do her lung treatments, even though she’s not a morning person.
“I do three breathing treatments in the morning and four at night, and I use the vest,” Parker says of her daily treatment regimen. “You get used to it, and you don't really think about it. You don't really have a choice.”
To keep her spirits up through it all, Parker looks to her parents, Johnny and Roxie, and her brother, Kyle.
“My parents have always been my backbone, supporting me in everything I’ve done,” she says fondly. “I have never stayed at the hospital by myself,” Parker says with a laugh. “My family has always stayed with me. They bend over backward to make my life easier.”
The “Must-Do” List
Tara with fiancé Dave
Parker has a lot of things to look forward to in the next couple of years. She graduates from Southeastern University in 2010 with a degree in public relations, and she’s getting married on New Year’s Day, 2011.
Also on her life “must-do” list: attend the Olympic Games, visit Europe, write a book, and even make a homemade pizza.
But topping her list, without a doubt, is “finding a cure for CF in my lifetime,” she says. "I plan to stay very involved with the Foundation to fight this battle."
Parker volunteers at the Foundation’s Florida Chapter in Tampa and served as the Great Strides team leader of Tara’s Terminators. ”A lot of my friends joined Tara’s Terminators this year, and we raised $6,925,” she says proudly. “My friends are excited to help find a cure for CF.”
Parker says she never lets life with CF get her down.
“I feel like I was given CF for a reason,” she says. “It gives me a whole different perspective. It's that light bulb that says tomorrow really is a blessing. Tomorrow is another opportunity to do what I’m passionate about.”
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