Mother Inspired to Become a Nurse After Raising a Daughter with Cystic Fibrosis

Selma Santos has met many nurses over the course of her life. Having a daughter with cystic fibrosis means spending a lot of time in the hospital or at doctor’s appointments, and nurses made this time feel safer, more comfortable, and less stressful. In fact, it is their kindness and skill that inspired Selma to become a nurse herself.

Raising a Daughter with CF

Selma gave birth to twins, Sabrina and Carlos Jr., in 1995 at Boston Children’s Hospital. They were born at 33 weeks, but one of the children was noticeable more sick than the other. Sabrina was unable to leave the hospital for the first two months of her life, and when she did leave, it was with a cystic fibrosis diagnosis.

This diagnosis meant going to the hospital throughout the year, along with performing treatments at home. The family was vigilant throughout this treatment, even moving to West Boca from Boston when the frigid winters were too tough on Sabrina’s lungs. This vigilance paid off, and Sabrina was an extremely happy and spirited child.

She was also extremely interested in ancient languages, such as Latin and Greek. She took classes in these subjects throughout high school, and expanded on these interests when she attended college in Boston. She had to alternate between online and in-person classes depending on her health, but she was able to find so many fascinating classes. Her dream was to work as a translator of ancient texts in London.

At age 18, the family began looking for a lung transplant. An infection took half of her lung function, making the need for a transplant dire. They moved to Cleveland, where she would be undergoing the operation, but unfortunately it was too late. Doctors did everything that they could for two months, but sadly Sabrina passed away at age 22.

Selma’s Journey

Raising a daughter with CF and going on that journey is what inspired Selma to become a nurse. It has been three years since Sabrina passed away, and Selma can now look back and remember the good times. Nurses played a role in many of these memories.

For example, the nurses in West Boca Medical Center helped set up a tent in Sabrina’s hospital room. They let her camp out, going into the tent to take vitals and set up IVs. Other nurses performed similar acts of kindness, whether that was teaching Sabrina to dance, helping her relax, or watching out for the other members of the Santos family. In fact, some of the nurses are friends with Selma to this day.

These nurses inspired Selma to enroll in Palm Beach State College’s nursing program. Her professors note her skill, saying that her years as a caregiver have given her an advantage. They also applaud her accountability, professionalism, compassion, ethics, empathy, and dedication.

Selma plans to take her registered nurse licensure exam in the beginning of 2021, followed by the pursuit of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. She believes that this is the best way to honor her daughter’s memory.

About Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that is characterized by progressive damage to the respiratory and digestive systems. Those with cystic fibrosis do not have the slippery mucus that is normally found in the lungs, instead they have thick and sticky mucus which builds up in their system. This buildup causes clogs in the airways, which then traps bacteria and causes breathing problems, infections, lung damage, and respiratory failure. It can also block digestive enzymes, which makes it difficult to absorb nutrients. Cystic fibrosis is a recessive disorder, meaning that the mutated gene must be passed down by both parents. The gene responsible for this condition affects the protein that regulates salt movement. The mutation in the gene varies in severity as well.

Symptoms of cystic fibrosis affect the respiratory and digestive systems. They include:

  • Persistent coughing and wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty exercising
  • Frequent lung infections
  • Stuffy noses
  • Trouble with gaining weight
  • Constipation
  • Male infertility
  • Salty-tasting skin
  • Exercise intolerance

Read more about Selma’s story here.

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