25 Years of Breathing Through a Straw

I have been living with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) since birth.

I was lucky that I was diagnosed early and started on medicine straight away. One in every 25 people carry the CF gene, with both parents needing to have the faulty gene in order for the child to have CF. Once both parents have the CF gene there is a one out of four chance that the child with have the illness.

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic illness which primarily affects the lungs and digestion. There is a defective gene which causes the body to produce thick and sticky mucus. This mucus builds up and clogs the lungs which lead to infections. It also obstructs the pancreas and its absorption of nutrients. Along with these aspects CF people can develop CF related Diabetes, Osteoporosis, liver problems and many more complications.

There is a brilliant campaign at the moment which is the straw selfie. This is where someone takes a selfie with a straw in the mouth. You have to breathe through the straw with the nose blocked off for best results. Do this for 60 seconds and it is a small insight into what it is like to breathe like someone with cystic fibrosis.

On a day to day basis I have a medication to take both orally and inhaled along with physiotherapy. With meals containing fat I would need to take enzymes to help absorb the nutrients. Each morning and evening I would take Ventolin to open up the airways before I do physiotheraphy for 20 minutes with a device called a Bipap. This device is a type of ventilator which helps to open up the airway and loosen up the mucus which is clogging the lungs to get it off the chest.

Following this I have an inhaled antibiotic as a preventative to keep the lungs from getting an infection. This is then repeated in the evening with following another Ventolin in the afternoon. It is also very important for the lungs to be exercised to keep them strong and in the best shape they can be in. I am a personal trainer so I enjoyed this aspect. I would do 20-30 minutes of cycling daily, just as a preference, in the morning.In the evening, I would do resistance work for about an hour or some Pilates. The fact that I had a good base of fitness stood to me when I got infections in terms of my body recovering better.

For me, I was fairly healthy throughout my life. I played football up until I was an adult and was always in the gym. People see someone that looks healthy and don’t realise that they have a lot of health issues on the inside. People with CF get “but you look so healthy” a fair amount especially in my case as I went to the gym(Although I took this as a compliment).

It’s very much an invisible illness.

Just as I started to break into the fitness industry my health declined. In the last 2 years I ended up in hospital every two months with an infection, my lung function started to decline and I lost 15kg in weight. In January I collapsed one of my lungs. I was then started on the process of getting onto the lung transplant list. With CF both lungs have to be transplanted as if one lung was transplanted then the CF lung would infect the new lung.
On August 24th I got the gift of two new lungs from an amazing donor who I can’t thank enough.

back in February when I collapsed the lung and was started on the process of getting onto the transplant list.

With my good base of fitness work I have recovered quickly from the operation. For the future now I will be on anti-rejection drugs and medication to keep my new lungs in the best shape they can be. I will no longer have to do physiotherapy with the Bipap but will continue to take inhaled medicines, oral medicines and enzymes. Obviously as a trainer, fitness will be a huge aspect of my post-transplant recovery. I’m six weeks’ post-transplant now and doing extremely well. I seem to be the exception when it comes to exercising as the exercise that they want me to do is too easy but until my chest heals from the surgery I am not allowed do much more.


For the first three month I have to be careful about a few things. I can’t eat takeaways as I have to be careful about getting food poisoning. I’m not allowed drive in case I’m in a crash because the chest still has not healed properly. I can’t take public transport or be in a crowd of more than two-three people due to the risk of infection.

The least amount of infections which I get the longer the lungs will last. Once the three months is up I hope to slowly get back into the gym and working. My main aim to get back to personal training and being working with athletes/sports teams.

If there is any wisdom that I could impart it everyone, It’s to get out and exercise. Our bodies can do amazing things and I know that the amount of effort I put into getting my body right before the transplant has helped me recover extremely quick. Imagine what you can do with a healthy body and exercise!


About the Author: Luke Doherty, (25) CF fighter from Dublin, Ireland, who has received new lungs. Follow his journey post-transplant back to personal training by liking his Facebook page transplant2trainer or you can follow on twitter (@lukedotsey) and Instagram (transplant2trainer).


Picture: “One month post transplant. I have no shirt on to show that you should be proud of your scars. It’s when life tried to knock you down but failed.”

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