Helping a fellow student
October 2, 2008 · Updated 4:43 PM
One thing almost all of Snoqualmie Elementary School (SES) third-grader Kaitie Gallagher's friends ask her about is the medical identification bracelet she wears around her left wrist.
"I normally just say I have a disease called cystic fibrosis (CF)," Kaitie said.
At 18 months, she was diagnosed with CF, a genetic disease that causes the body to produce abnormally thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and sinuses and obstructs normal food digestion through improper enzyme production.
There are about 30,000 children and adults with CF in the United States, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
To support Kaitie and to help raise funds for research, eight classrooms at Kaitie's school recently participated in a "coin war" and ended up collecting $1,094.36 in pennies, dimes, nickels, quarters and $1 coins.
A coin war involves one classroom challenging another classroom to see which can collect the most coins, explained Katie's mother Cathy, a massage therapist who introduced the idea to SES.
Second-grade teacher Marisa Snyder (formerly Porter) and her class brought in the most money per classroom with about $230.
Snyder, who taught Kaitie last year, said she had her class participate in the coin war as a way to instill in her students a sense of community and to help contribute to a worthwhile cause; it also had academic value (as counting and money were involved).
"I think they were really able to match a face with something a little bit scary," Snyder said about what her students learned from the experience, noting that Kaitie came to each classroom and talked about her situation with her fellow students.
"I think they were able to understand a bigger picture," she added. "It was great for them to understand that not only does she have this disease, but that she's also just this normal, healthy, fun girl ... I never think of her as somebody who is sick. She's just got such a spark and a great lust for life."
The money will be used to help sponsor this fall's first annual Snoqualmie Valley Great Strides fund-raising walk in North Bend's Centennial Fields to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Cathy, who also has two boys (10-year-old Raymond and 16-year-old Trevor Koehn), said she first noticed something was wrong with Kaitie when she seemed to stop growing at about 18 months. Her stomach also protruded to an abnormal degree and she produced sweat that was very salty (a sign of CF).
"We couldn't figure out what was wrong," Cathy said. "She was eating and eating, but not getting anything from it."
When a neighbor suggested that Kaitie had symptoms associated with CF, Cathy said she began to do research and talked with Kaitie's doctor.
"I just knew that's what she had," Cathy said, noting that though CF is genetic, it is a recessive gene and that, to her knowledge, no one in her or Kaitie's father's family had a history of CF.
Kaitie's doctor did tests and came back with results confirming that she had CF.
"I kept thinking this is the day that changes everything," Cathy said. "Once we knew what was going on, though, my first thought was relief."
Now 8 years of age, Kaitie is healthy for the most part, though she gets dehydrated easily, craves salty foods often, has difficulty gaining weight and has to take multiple medications and enzyme supplements to help her digest her food properly.
Every time she wants to eat she has to prepare ahead of time by taking four enzyme supplements for meals or three for snacks. Without the enzyme supplements Kaitie would become malnourished, even if she continued to eat normally.
She also has to remember to stay hydrated throughout the day and has to be sensitive to the air quality because her lungs' inability to expunge infectious elements makes her vulnerable to sickness. The mucus build-up in the lungs of a person with CF traps any sort of infection, making it extremely difficult to get rid of it.
"The thing that's really scary for people with CF is the lung issue," Cathy said. "She will die from it. She already has scar tissue and eventually her lungs will break down."
The average life span for a person with CF is about 38 years.
"It's all about keeping them as healthy as they can [be] for as long as you can," Cathy said. "She's very healthy, so we're hopeful."
In all, Kaitie has a daily regime that requires the use of three inhalers and the consumption of about 20 pills a day.
"I'm fine with it and I like talking about CF," Kaitie said. "I know I have to take medicine whenever I do something and if things seem unusual, I have to report it."
"It's a hard thing to be an 8 year old and have so much responsibility," Cathy said. "I think it's harder for me than it is for her, though."
Kaitie, who wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up, said having CF doesn't bother her as she doesn't know life any other way.
"I think she handles it very well," said her father Ray, a retail manager. "I think she has wisdom beyond her years."
For him, though, Kaitie's disease in never far from the forefront of his mind.
"I think about it probably every minute of every day," Ray said. "It's something that's always there."
In April, Kaitie was invited to participate in a study for children with CF at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.
However, she was told that she didn't qualify because she was too healthy.
"That makes me feel like I'm one of the people who will live that long [to age 38]," Kaitie said.
"I want Kaitie to have every opportunity that any other healthy child would have to fulfill her dreams regardless of physical or health restraints, but because of her CF that may not be possible," Ray said.
Besides sinus surgery last summer and a visit to the doctor every few months for a checkup, Kaitie has been able to avoid the serious medical issues that come with CF, which may include lung infection, an obstructed pancreas and liver damage.
"It used to be that [people with CF] didn't live to adulthood," Cathy said. "In the last 50 years there have been improvements."
Those improvements have come as a result of research, something that Cathy is passionate about supporting.
That's why she is organizing the Valley's first local Great Strides walk in September to raise money for research; there is one held in Seattle every year.
Cathy said she has already begun planning for the fall event and is looking for sponsors and teams to walk. She will have an informational booth at Fall City Days on June 17 and at Railroad Days in Snoqualmie on Aug. 4, 5 and 6.
She is also holding a "Spa Party with a Purpose" at 4 p.m. on July 15 at a residence in Carnation. The party will feature manicures, hair cuts, massages and more for a donation. Her son Trevor is also organizing a raffle, with the drawing to occur during the Valley walk.
"I'm so active in fund-raising because it's people researching that have kept her alive and I owe them," Cathy said. "You never know which dollar it could be that funds the cure."
The Snoqualmie Valley Great Strides Walk will be at 11 a.m. on Sept. 30 at Centennial Fields in North Bend.
For more information, to sign up or donate, visit www.snoqualmievalleygreatstrides.com, www.CFF.org or contact Gallagher at (425) 753-0493 or email@example.com.