Health Team

Cystic fibrosis patients bike from Cary to Baltimore

Posted September 18, 2014
Updated September 19, 2014

When you think about someone with cystic fibrosis, you may think of someone who has to limit their activity.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that mainly affects the lungs and digestive system.

A cycling team is out to prove that exercise helps CF patients breathe better.

Jerry Cahill, 58, was diagnosed with CF at age 10. Although he may live only six more years, he is still physically active.

“I kind of grew up in the dark ages with cystic fibrosis,” he said.

When he was younger, doctors told Cahill's parents to keep him comfortable at home and that too much physical exertion would spur coughing. His parents didn't listen and encouraged him in a variety of sports. It turned out that exercise was the best thing for him.

“The biggest problem with people with cystic fibrosis is that their airways get clogged up with mucous, which causes a lot of infection,” Cahill said. “So when you exercise, it helps you cough a lot and then you clear out the mucous.”

Cahill, along with Emily Shaller, 32, who also has CF, is cycling more than 500 miles – from Cary to Baltimore – in seven days.

They have named their ride "Bike to Breathe."

“Jerry is a huge inspiration to me personally,” Shaller said. “I was very inactive and one day I was sick of being sick, so I said, ‘Why am I in the hospital so much?’”

She heard about Cahill and his work for the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which stresses exercise for those with CF while raising awareness and money for CF research. Boomer Esaiason is a former NFL quarterback whose son, Gunnar, has the disease.

Cahill and Shaller have trained together for their ride, staying on greenway trails where they can.

“We're coughing and spitting the whole ride,” Shaller said. “Some people think it's gross, but for CF patients, it's airway clearance.”

Support vehicles keep the pair safe when they travel on roads. They're thankful for medical advances that allow more people with CF to be more active. 


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