I have spent the last 35 years of my life living with cystic fibrosis. I was diagnosed about one month after I was born and was often in and out of the hospital for long stays. By the time I made it to my late teens, I wanted to find a way that I could make a difference, while managing my disease.
When I was 17, I decided I wanted to become a paramedic and a firefighter. I had spent my childhood riding in the back of my grandfather's firetruck, and I knew that this was the path I wanted too. The doctors highly discouraged this because of the risk of lung injuries and being exposed to multiple infectious diseases.
But I realized that if I wanted to make an impact in the lives of others and really test my potential, I would need to make the decision that allowed me to stay true to myself.
Though the road has been long and I have witnessed a great deal of suffering, it has only driven me to continue. I've had a successful career as a paramedic and a firefighter, constantly reminding myself that I could do anything a healthy person could do and I wouldn't let CF get in the way. After 17 years of public service, I have made it to the level of not only fire chief, but also a flight paramedic. I spent eight years in the U.S. Army as a combat medic, and I recently finished a bachelor's degree in health care management and am now finishing my nursing degree.
Has it been easy? No, not at all. I have to struggle every day to get up and push forward. Lack of sleep from the job and from spending many nights coughing has made things even more difficult. But I believe that I was blessed with a challenge that I can use to benefit others.
During my military training, I constantly had to tell myself that I could do it -- especially because the military had no clue that I had this condition. As a firefighter, I've had to enforce strict safety measures for myself and wear a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), which is required for fighting fires and works by restricting your breathing even further. The physical demands of my jobs are very high, but for me it is all about the drive to do something that a healthy person can do and do it just as well (or better). Many times, just seeing the shock on people's faces when they hear what I do with my condition is enough to keep me pushing forward. It gives me a sense of pride and encouragement that I can represent the CF world with my successes.
I have met some amazing people with CF through the online CF community, and many of them have become firefighters, emergency medical technicians, or made a career in law enforcement. I plan to start interviewing these men and women, so stay tuned for more on the blog.
I believe that waking up every day as a person with CF is a chance to do something more with your illness. Think of it this way: Most people wake up taking life for granted. But as a person with CF, you wake up thinking, “I made it another day.” Why not test your potential? It may not be as a firefighter, paramedic, police officer, or soldier, but there are so many options available for you. Go for the gold. How many successful people were told they couldn't do something and then proved themselves despite skepticism and failure?
Every day is a gift for me, so I am determined to test my potential, make a positive impact, and prove that my health will not keep me from achieving my dreams.
I am almost always available for comment unless I am treating a patient or fighting a fire, and I will answer any questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you, and, until next time … just breathe.