‘Breathe 5K’ to help Breeleigh battle CF
Breeleigh Thomason is a typical 16-year old teenager. She enjoys hanging out with her best friend, Courtney, and spending time with her family.
Looking at this vivacious teen, you would never know she is fighting a life-threatening condition and awaiting a double lung transplant.
Breeleigh was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition that causes a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the buildup of mucus in the lungs clogs the airway passages and traps bacteria which causes persistent lung infections.
The frequent and prolonged infections lead to extensive lung damage and eventually to respiratory failure.
CF patients often suffer from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies as well.
In the pancreas, the mucus prevents the release of necessary digestive enzymes that allow the body to break down food and absorb vital nutrients.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation reports that more than 30,000 people in the United States are living with CF and approximately 1,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Breeleigh’s mother, Becky Mills, says her daughter was diagnosed at birth.
“She’s had it all her life. It’s a rough disease,” said Mills. “It really is. And you know, it’s not just Breeleigh that goes through it. We go through it, too. We have to arrange everything around what she needs.”
Unfortunately, Mills is all too familiar with the devastating effects CF has on a family.
Breeleigh’s older brother Logan died from the disease at the age of 8 while waiting for a lung transplant.
As CF patients get older and their disease progresses, care becomes more intensive.
Treatment that initially involves breathing treatments and special enzymes becomes a constant battle with the environment around the patient.
“When she was younger, it was easier. She just needed the breathing treatments and that kind of thing. She looked like a normal kid. You wouldn’t have known. She went to school. She could go and do. She looked like a normal kid,” Mills said. “When they get older, it progresses and it gets bad. The last couple of years, she has been in the end-stages of CF. Now, we have to be very wary of who she comes in contact with, what she touches when we go out. She has to be careful not to touch [shopping cart] buggies…keep her hands in her pocket. What would be a cold to me or you becomes life and death for her.”
Mills said that Breeleigh must wear a special mask anytime she goes out in public. If any member of the family becomes ill, then Breeleigh must be quarantined to prevent exposure.
In October of 2017, Breeleigh’s condition had worsened to the point that she was placed on the lung transplant list.
Being placed on the list required Breeleigh and her mother to relocate to Houston, Texas, to be near Texas Children’s Hospital, one of the leading pediatric lung transplant centers in the country.
Becky’s husband, Steven, remained in Georgia with their 13-year old daughter Katie and 4-year old son Landon.
The separation has been difficult on the family.
“As a mom, that’s a huge struggle. I’m needed in two places and can’t be there,” said Mills.
The distance is hard for Breeleigh as well.
“I miss having someone to talk to besides my mom all the time,” she says. “I really miss my sister and brother.”
Mills said one of the hardest things is dealing with the waiting.
She and Breeleigh have no idea how long they will have to remain in Texas.
The only time they can be away from the area is when the clinic is inactive, which does not happen often.
Faith and church and community support have been key to helping them deal with the uncertainty, as well as the financial challenges.
“There’s no way we could get through this without all the support we have gotten from our church and community,” Mills said.
Their home church, Pleasant Grove Baptist in Lavonia, has organized Breathe for Breeleigh, a 5K run/walk this Saturday, June 9, at the Royston Wellness and Community Park.
The cost to participate is $25 with a t-shirt or $20 without a t-shirt.
Members of the Pleasant Grove youth group are helping with the event.
For children 12 and under, registration is $10 for the Fun Run. To register, visit www.runsignup.com/Race/GA/Royston/BreatheforBreeleigh5K.
Breeleigh will turn 16 years old the day of the fundraiser. She and her mother will have to mark the milestone in Houston.
Despite what she has been through, Breeleigh’s outlook remains positive.
It is a trait her mother says has carried Breeleigh throughout the course of her battle with CF.
“No matter what she has to go through, she has always got a smile on her face,” said Mills. “It doesn’t matter if she’s being poked and prodded. She goes through a lot of testing and it’s hard. Even when she’s in pain, she’s smiling. I guess because of that, we can draw strength from her.”
The Breathe for Breeleigh 5K run/walk will begin at 8 a.m., with race day registration beginning at 7:30 a.m.