This was the scenario Cathi Connelly, executive director of the Northern California chapter of the Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis, presented to students at Tri Gamma’s Breathe Freely lung health seminar last Tuesday evening. Tri Gamma is the female nursing society at USF.
The fourth annual event focused on creating awareness of lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis (CF), promoting clean air, and instilling a greater appreciation for healthy lungs. According to Taramarie O’Connor, vice president of Tri Gamma, the connection between lung health advocates and the society members started in 2010, when then-President Adrienne Horn wanted to educate students on CF, after watching her childhood friend suffer through the disease.
“We need to have a better understanding of what cystic fibrosis is,” Connelly said. “There are ten million symptomless kids out there who are going to have a hard life — and a short life. The average life expectancy for patients is 37 [years]. That is simply not enough.”
So, what is cystic fibrosis? Guest speaker Steven Hays, medical director of the UCSF lung transplant program, broke it down. It’s a genetic, chronic, and life-threatening lung disease that causes thick mucus buildup in the lungs, the digestive tract, and other parts of the body, he said. Connelly addressed what it feels like to have CF with an interactive demonstration involving red balloons and cocktail straws. Attendees of the seminar were told to blow up their balloons normally, at first, then again through cocktail straws.
“Ah man, this is hard work,” exclaimed one student, as his balloon refused to grow. “I have to stop, I’m hyperventilating,” said another.
“Don’t you think,” asked Connelly, “that at the end of the day, you’d be so damn tired because it hurts just to breath?”
The answer, at least to junior nursing major Colleen O’Sullivan, is yes. “I learn about this kind of stuff in class, but I’ve never really thought about it from a patients perspective before. It must be hard,” she said.
Some students missed the opportunity to answer such questions. As many students know, last Tuesday evening was also the first game of the World Series, which may account for the fact that only six of an expected 30 students were present at the seminar’s start. More trickled in after.
“I am so happy that, in the end, a good 30 people chose to come to the lung health seminar,” said O’Connor. “Though, I cannot dismiss the other students for their passion for their city,” she added.
For those dedicated Giants’ fans, don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways you can educate yourself on lung health. Karen Licavoli is vice president of programs at Breathe California, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy lungs through political reform. She is working to ban smoking at all outdoor events in San Francisco.
“Eighty-eight percent of people here don’t smoke,” reported Licavoli. “So, we are hoping to have this ban adopted by winter. You can help by calling your [local] supervisor,” she said.
Connelly suggested volunteering, fundraising, or donating to the Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis. “We’re almost there, we’re almost at creating a normal life for these people. Everyone’s going to want to be there at the finish line but we encourage you all to help us cross it,” she cheered.
Tiana Coleman, a senior nursing student, attended the seminar for her pediatrics class. “The event was educational in that they addressed a lot of issues that are often overlooked, and they gave us different ways that normal people like ourselves can do to help,” said Coleman.
O’Connor concluded, “We do this every year; we have awesome speakers, and we really want students to appreciate their healthy lungs and to take care of them.”
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