Forty is the beginning of middle age. I remember when my father turned 40; everything was decorated black. Black balloons. Black streamers. Black icing on the cake. Actually, it was more of a deep purple, but that was the best we could manage at the time. He was none too happy about going “over the hill”. Despite what magazines tell us about 40 is the new 30, most people not living with a chronic illness that daily threatens their health still dread turning 40.
One woman, however, Abbie Vollmar, was excited for her black birthday. Her joy about going over the hill is because Abbie has cystic fibrosis (CF). Many people with CF never reach the birthday that so many people dread.
Abbie’s case is a bit unique. One of the nurses who delivered her at Shelby Memorial Hospital in Illinois noticed something odd with the newborn. She notified the doctor who ordered testing.
At the time of her diagnosis, Abbie was only days old, becoming the youngest person diagnosed with CF.
Cystic fibrosis is a rare genetic disorder that results in respiratory and digestive problems. The person’s body produces mucus that is thicker than usual. The mucus accumulates in the lungs, resulting in labored breathing, infections, and damage to the lungs. The mucus can also get into the digestive tract where it slows or prevents the system from extracting nutrients from food. The cause of the genetic mutation that causes CF is not known yet.
Given the tremendous difficulties with breathing and digesting, the median life expectancy for people with CF is just 38 years. There is no cure for the rare condition, but there are treatments for the symptoms.
Abbie undergoes treatments every day in order to minimize the damage the mucus causes to her body. She wears a vest that uses gentle drumming actions to help break up the mucus that accumulated in her lungs while she sleeps. She also undergoes a breathing treatment to help clear her lungs. She does these treatments three times a day. She also exercises to stave off bone loss.
Last week on September 30, her hometown had a CF event to raise awareness and funds to continue research for a cure. There were raffle prizes available for both the highest donations collected and farthest distance ridden.
Abbie participated in the ride. Though there can be only one winner of each category, once the cure is found, an estimated 30,000 Americans with CF will all be winners.