January 9, 2018 / All Stories

Cystic fibrosis inspired her desire to care for others

Chronic illness inspired Briana H. to become a physician’s assistant – dedication, determination and a positive attitude will help her achieve it.

What’s it like to grow up with cystic fibrosis?

Briana H.: I was diagnosed when I was 18 months old so this is something I’ve lived with since before I can remember. It wasn’t until I got a little bit older and wanted to be over at friends’ houses that I learned that it could sometimes be a burden and get in the way of things. I’m sure anyone with a chronic illness would say that it’s annoying at times. But as a kid it never held me back from anything, I played a ton of sports when I was younger. I did competitive cheerleading for a lot of years, in addition to ski club, and I was involved in other ways like volunteering and giving school tours.

How has life in college been different than living at home?

BH: I’ve always been pretty independent with my health. In high school, I was always the first one up in my family and the last one in bed because my treatments take about an hour, so I had to allow extra time in the morning and night. It is a little more responsibility to keep track of all my medications and keep them organized. I do have a cystic fibrosis center at school so I go to doctor’s appointments there and I’ve made connections around the area. As of this January, I got a port in my chest for IV antibiotics. With that I’ve had to learn how to access it once a month so it doesn’t’ get clogged. I have to keep all my ducks in a row and make sure that I’m doing everything that I need to do.

You’re periodically hospitalized because of cystic fibrosis. How do you keep up with school?

BH: My teachers and friends have always been extremely supportive and helpful during those times when I have missed school. In high school and college both, I have FaceTimed into classes. So one of my friends will pull me up on their laptop and I’ll sit in a lecture even though I’m in the hospital. People are really good about giving me notes and giving me extra time on things, because when I’m hospitalized it’s not for one night or two, it’s for two full weeks at least.

What inspired you to study as a physician assistant?

BH: My interest in the medical and health care field stems from the fact that I’ve always been in those atmospheres growing up, either a doctor’s office or a hospital. I thought it was very interesting and I’ve always loved all of my care providers. There are people who would bend over backwards for me and make sure that my health is in line so that I can continue doing whatever I want to do. Because I’ve gotten such great care throughout my life – doctors, nurses, therapists – I want to be that person in someone else’s life and help others.

Do you have any other tips or advice for people and families impacted by cystic fibrosis?

BH: It sounds cliché, but make most of the times when you’re healthy because we’ve all been in those positions where we don’t feel well, can’t move or are in the hospital for a couple of weeks. In those times, I think about all the fun experiences I’ve had and that gives me the push to want to work as hard as I can to get better. Keep your health in the front of your mind so that everything else can be possible and you can live a full life.

Briana is the recipient of 2017 AbbVie Thriving Scholar Undergraduate CF scholarship created to honor young adults with cystic fibrosis as they pursue goals of higher education. 2017 marked the 25th year of the scholarship program.

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Raquel Powers
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