- Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system.
- 30,000 Americans have CF and another 1,000 are diagnosed each year.
- Symptoms vary from person to person.
- Research has led to better understanding of the causes and complications of CF.
- Although there is no cure, people are living longer than ever due to advances in treatment.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetically inherited chronic disease of the mucus and sweat glands. It affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 U.S. children and adults in the United States and some 70,000 people worldwide.
No one is a better example of improvements in cystic fibrosis (CF) research and treatment than Gunnar Esiason. The 21-year-old Boston College senior is living proof that while this genetic disease may still be incurable, it is not the death sentence it was for so long.
He and his parents—Cheryl Esiason and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason—are helping to fund research and support the CF community through the Boomer Esiason Foundation (BEF). Although Gunnar was diagnosed with the disease at age 2, he grew up playing everything from football and lacrosse to ice hockey and golf. And his family's foundation has become a leading voice in the battle against CF.
"Because of BEF, I have been able to reach out to the CF community and try to reassure everyone who has been affected by this disease that CF isn't the end of the world, if they don't want it to be," says Gunnar. "That has been my main goal."
From 1985 to 2005, predicted survival of people with CF in the U.S. increased from age 25 years to age 37 years. That progress continues today. "I believe that we are experiencing something of a medical miracle now in cystic fibrosis research," says Boomer Esiason. "I fully expect Gunnar to outlive me." Although a cure still eludes researchers, improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease are dramatically changing the landscape for those with CF and their loved ones.
"I want to try and have the most 'normal' college experience possible," says Gunnar. "I hope to graduate on time, and then potentially move on to post-graduate studies."
What is CF?
CF makes mucus thick and sticky. The mucus clogs the lungs. This causes breathing problems and makes it easy for bacteria to grow. This leads to repeated lung infections and damage, and other problems.
The symptoms and severity of CF vary widely. Some people have serious problems from birth. Others have a milder form that doesn't show up until they are teens or young adults.
There is no cure for CF but treatments have improved greatly in recent years. Today, some people are living into their forties, or older.
Who's at Risk?
Cystic fibrosis affects males and females from all racial and ethnic groups. It is most common in Caucasians, followed by Latinos and American Indians, especially the Pueblo and Zuni. It is less common among African Americans and Asian Americans.
Although more than 10 million Americans carry a faulty CF gene, many don't know they are CF carriers.