Living With Cystic Fibrosis
AS TOLD BY JIMMY GARATZIOTIS
On July 25, 1998, I was rushed to the hospital with agonizing pain in my chest. My heart was fine, but my lungs were so infected that I had extreme difficulty breathing. I was still only 25, and my life was hanging in the balance.
TWO days after my birth, doctors told my parents that I had severe jaundice. They said that if I did not have a blood transfusion, I would either die or suffer brain damage. I survived without a blood transfusion—and without brain damage.
The first two years of my life were marked by many perplexing health problems and bouts of pneumonia. A doctor finally diagnosed my condition as cystic fibrosis (CF). At the time, people with this disease lived to an average age of seven years. But because of medical advances, more and more children with CF are reaching adulthood.
What Is CF?
CF is an incurable inherited disorder. It causes increasingly severe respiratory problems, and often CF patients have extreme difficulty digesting their food.
Approximately 1 in 25 people is a carrier of the CF defective gene. In most instances carriers are not even aware that they carry the gene, since they do not manifest any symptoms of the disorder. If both father and mother are carriers, they have a 1 in 4 chance of having a child with CF.
Mine is one of the rare cases where CF was diagnosed because of the presence of nasal polyps. As a result of these, the doctors were prompted to test the salt content of my sweat, which is the most common test for diagnosing CF. Often the presence of salt on the skin is noticed first by parents or grandparents who detect a salty taste on their lips after kissing the child.
The growth of nasal polyps impaired my breathing, so surgery has been done almost yearly on my sinuses to remove polyps. Such operations are uncomfortable, and recovery is painful. They are also dangerous because of the bleeding. But I have had many operations, and all have been performed without the use of blood. How thankful I am for not having to live with or worry about complications that can result from blood transfusions!
Coping With the Disease
Although my illness limits what I can do, I try to keep as active as possible. A special day in my life was August 1, 1987, when I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah God.
When I get up in the morning, I inhale a ventolin solution followed by a saline solution. This helps loosen secretions in my lungs and opens my airways so that I can breathe easier. The treatment lasts about 15 minutes. Afterward I take physiotherapy for from 40 minutes to an hour to loosen and drain the secretions in my lungs. Then I take another inhalation treatment, this time of an antibiotic to fight infection. The whole procedure is repeated in the afternoon and again in the evening.
The three treatment sessions take about four hours each day. I usually eat afterward, since my treatment goes more smoothly if I have an empty stomach. In spite of such a time-consuming daily regimen, I have made it a practice to attend the meetings of the Greek-speaking congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in London, Ontario, Canada. On meeting nights I postpone my therapy until 10:00 p.m. For me the blessings received from attending the meetings far outweigh the sacrifices involved. A regular share in the ministry has also been important to me.
Sharing My Faith
Hospitalizations have provided me with special opportunities to share my Christian faith. One time I had an opportunity to speak with a Greek Orthodox priest, who was a patient in another room. He remarked that I was a respectful young person and said that he thought that I was a good example for the young people in the Greek community. Little did he know that I was aware that he was spearheading opposition to the ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses among the Greek-speaking people.
When visitors came to see the priest, he would also send them to see me. His visitors recognized the faces of family members and friends visiting me as those who had called at their door in the ministry. Some of the priest’s visitors stayed, but others returned in surprise to ask the priest why he had sent them to see Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even after he learned that I was a Witness, our Bible discussions continued. We discussed such topics as the name Jehovah, the Trinity, and the political neutrality of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Greece. As we spoke, I could detect that the walls of his opposition were coming down.
The priest admitted to knowing the truth about some of the Bible topics that we discussed but confessed that he did not teach the truth regarding these things for fear of losing his job. Later Esther, my younger sister, and I visited his home, and he accepted Bible literature. Opposition to our preaching in the territory softened. In fact, many who heard of the priest’s receptive ear began to listen. Soon after, though, the priest was reassigned elsewhere.
Another significant development unfolded as a result of sharing my faith during one of my hospitalizations. I spoke with a youth named Jeff, who had come to visit his grandfather. Further conversations led to a Bible study with him. In time, Jeff desired to attend congregation meetings. Although I generally attended a congregation in London, for a while I traveled to nearby Stratford to take him to meetings there. The objective was for him to be assisted by someone who lived close to his home.
Regrettably, Jeff yielded to pressure from his family and did not progress spiritually. However, while attending meetings in Stratford, I became reacquainted with Deanne Stewart. We had met when we shared in the construction of a Kingdom Hall. A relationship developed, and we were married on June 1, 1996.
My Situation Changes
Unfortunately, three weeks after getting married, I became very ill. This started a sequence of hospitalizations leading up to the emergency described at the outset. Since then I have been on oxygen 24 hours a day. I cope with fevers, night sweats, pleurisy, loss of sleep from coughing at night, and pains in my joints, legs, and chest. At times I also cough up blood, which is frightening because if it does not stop, it could result in sudden death.
Now, with my dear wife at my side as a companion and helper, I share in witnessing to doctors, physiotherapists, patients, and other health-care workers at hospitals as well as at home when they visit. Difficult though my medical problems are, we view all these occasions as opportunities to praise Jehovah’s name.
What Now Sustains Me
Because of my changed circumstances, Deanne and I have a special telephone hookup that enables us to listen to and participate in congregation meetings. This loving provision gives us much encouragement and a feeling that we are still an active part of the congregation, even though we can no longer be physically present most of the time.
In addition, our ministry now includes calling people on the telephone and sharing our Bible-based hope. We have started Bible studies, which we conduct over the telephone. Speaking to strangers about Jehovah and his marvelous provisions for faithful mankind in a new world of righteousness brings us great joy.
The support of my father and mother has been a strengthening encouragement and comfort to me. I am especially indebted to Jehovah for blessing me with Deanne, who has accepted me with my illness and now plays a major role in helping me to endure.
As I reach the final stages of my illness, meditating on my hope for the future keeps me going. Reading the Bible daily with Deanne is a comfort to both of us. I know that in the near future, I will be healthy, with no need for daily therapy just to breathe. In the promised Paradise, when I receive healthy lungs, I see myself running through an open field. That is all I want—just to run in an open field for a while so that I can test out my lungs.
Visualizing the blessings of God’s promised new world helps me to cope day by day. Proverbs 24:10 says: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.” Rather than feeling that my power is scanty, I feel that Jehovah gives me power beyond what is normal. (2 Corinthians 4:7) This helps me to give a witness about his name and purposes as well as to face whatever he allows—whether that be survival through the end of this system of things at Armageddon or death now and a resurrection later into his new world.—1 John 2:17; Revelation 16:14-16; 21:3, 4.
[Pictures on page 13]
With my wife, Deanne, who is a great support to me