Managing Work Life and CF

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“Kicking Butt With CF at 67!” Dr. Quinton

For many years, it was generally assumed that those diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) would live a brief and relatively unproductive life. Several decades ago, that may have been accepted as truth. However Dr. Paul Quinton, who spoke at the 25th National CF Family Education Conference, defies the odds each and every day. 

As we learned during his presentation, “Kicking Butt With CF at 67!” Dr. Quinton’s life is the extreme opposite of brief and unproductive. Dr. Quinton, currently a professor of Biomedical Science at the University of California, San Diego, was born in 1944, a time when cystic fibrosis was largely unknown by the medical community. While in the fifth grade, Dr. Quinton failed a school Tuberculosis test and it was discovered that something was wrong with his lungs.

As a result of the relative obscurity of CF, he was not diagnosed with cystic fibrosis until the age of 19 years. Until that point, it was assumed that he merely had stubborn respiratory infections that could not be properly treated. Dr. Quinton’s first diagnosis was that of chronic bronchitis. While a sophomore at the University of Texas, Dr. Quinton read literature that led him to a self-diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.  It was then that he was introduced to Dr. Gunyon Harrison of Baylor University, his first physician who was a specialist in the treatment of CF patients.

Dr. Harrison was able to medically confirm through a series of sweat tests that Dr. Quinton did, indeed, have cystic fibrosis. Early in Dr. Quinton’s career, while working at the University of California, Riverside, he analyzed the sweat ducts of CF patients, and with the assistance of his colleagues, was able to discover an abnormality in these ducts.

The team concluded that the problem with the ducts was due to their impermeability to chloride. As such, the chloride could not get out across the duct, could not be reabsorbed back into the blood, and wound up on the surface of the skin. This is the basis for the thick and sticky mucus that permeates the bodies of CF patients.

During his presentation, Dr. Quinton shared some personal moments about his life as a CF patient. He divulged that when he was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, he chose to keep the discovery largely to himself, informing just a few people about his condition. It was only when his experience with CF appeared in the San Jose Mercury newspaper, that he was able to freely disclose his situation. Dr. Quinton concluded his presentation with thoughts about how he felt about death, and whether he is fearful. He remarked that to him, death is inspirational: it drives us to live.

Further, it is his view that the challenge of death can inspire people to be more than they otherwise would. The rich and full life that Dr. Quinton leads provides an example to all living with cystic fibrosis that

Being diagnosed with CF is not the beginning to an end. Rather, it is merely a beginning with boundless possibilities.

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