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August 22, 2019
Most of us might pop a multivitamin each morning. Chelsea Gagnon swallows 20 to 30 pills per day or 10,000 pills a year. The 27-year-old has cystic fibrosis (CF): her body produces thick, sticky mucous that clogs her lungs, making it hard to breathe. The disease makes her prone to sinus and lung infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Eventually, chronic inflammation triggered by repeated infections will damage her lungs.
Chelsea has been a patient of the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the Montreal Chest Institute (MCI) of the McGill University Health Centre her entire adult life. CF is the most common fatal genetic disease. About 4,000 Canadian children and young adults live with CF.
At present, there is no cure. But life expectancy has improved dramatically in the last few decades, with the average person with CF living into their early 50s. In fact, patients treated at the MCI have the longest average survival rate of any CF clinic in Canada.
For Chelsea, lung infections like the flu and pneumonia are simply part of life. In the last year, she has been hospitalized at the MCI three times. With each infection, her lungs get incrementally worse. She currently functions with 50 percent lung capacity, but somehow, she has the courage and the tenacity to run half-marathons and goes to the gym as often as possible, because she knows how important this is for her health.
Since age 19, Chelsea has been treated by Dr. Jennifer Landry, a respirologist at the MCI. “I love her! She’s like my second mother, very nurturing and kind. We joke around and stuff,” Chelsea says, as she coughs gently and clears her throat.
Right now, Dr. Landry can only treat Chelsea for the symptoms of CF. There are treatments to clear her lungs of mucous, prevent lung infections, help with the digestion of food and much more. Researchers investigating the causes of CF have made a number of breakthroughs recently. Chelsea is a candidate for a new treatment which may prove very beneficial.
MEET CF RESEARCHER DR. DAO NGUYEN
One researcher seeking to better understand CF is Dr. Dao Nguyen. Dr. Nguyen is studying the impact of chronic lung infections on lung inflammation. The researcher discovered there are variants of bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa that evolve in the lungs of CF patients and cause a lot of inflammation. This inflammation leads to lung failure and the need for lung transplants. By better understanding the cause of lung inflammation, Dr. Nguyen and her team hope to find a remedy. This would further prolong the life of patients with CF and would improve their quality of life as well.
Researchers at the MCI and elsewhere are studying CF from all angles, increasing the chances of a major breakthrough.
Meanwhile, Chelsea is holding on waiting for the discovery that will save her life.