Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic condition that targets the digestive system and the lungs. More than 70,000 people across the globe suffer from the disease, many of whom do not live past the age of 40. Recently, researchers found that the salty water from the ocean helps expel the thick mucus that congests the lungs. Organizations across the globe have been encouraging cystic fibrosis patients to learn how to surf; not only to surf their way to better health, but for fun too.
Individuals with Cystic Fibrosis contain a faulty gene, causing the body to create thick mucus that blocks the lungs and pancreas, which stops the natural enzymes in the body from breaking down food and absorbing vital nutrients.
About ten years ago, Australian doctors discovered that individuals with the condition who surfed appeared to breathe easier. More studies in 2006 concluded that saline treatments were improving patients’ overall health based on the salt water findings. Pulmonary Specialist Dr. Bruce Nickerson stated that since the salt water breakthrough, people struggling from cystic fibrosis noticed improvements in pulmonary function, how well they felt overall, and the need for hospitalization decreased.
The salt water discovery led to the debut of many non-profit organizations such as the Mauli Ola Foundation, the Hawaiian meaning for “breath of life.” The organization joins professional surfers such as Sunny Garcia and Kelly Slater with CF patients.
Paulette and Rob Montelone decided to bring their five children to the San Onofre State Beach located in Southern California for a bit of surfing and family enjoyment. The Montelones’ brood include Michael, age 12, Gavin and Grace, age 8, and Brian and Booke, age 10. Three of the five kids (Michael, Gavin and Brooke) tested positive for the illness. The Montelone family came across the Mauli Ola Foundation one year after the three children were diagnosed.
The family goes to the doctor every month for appointments that can last a total of six hours. The three children have to wake up at 5 a.m. every day to do their treatments in order to arrive to school on time. One of their every day treatments includes having the kids wear a vest that vibrates, breaking up the phlegm in their lungs while they inhale hypertonic saline. Oftentimes the cystic fibrosis wears on the young siblings, making them yearn to be without the condition. But when these patients surf their way to better health, it brings a huge smile to their faces and lightens up the load that they carry on a day-to-day basis.
Paulette Montelone stated that they have found the silver lining to dealing with cystic fibrosis through surfing. “It is helping them breathe better, but it is also helping our family enjoy something together.”
Since they began surfing as a way to suppress the symptoms from the disease, the children’s lung functions have been improving. Although Michael’s lung functions decrease by roughly 5 percent every winter, the numbers increase again each summer, which is a definite indication that the surfing is helping.
Michael said that he still fears that he or his sister and brother might die because of the disease. He continued by saying that he knows it could happen but tries to put the thought in the back of his head so he can keep going each day without constantly worrying.
The family views the sport as a life-saving way to manage cystic fibrosis, and plans to continue to surf their way to better health and encourage other patients to do the same. Grace mentioned that she feels scared about the future of her brothers and sisters. “But when I go surfing,” she said, “I forget about all that.”
By Amy Nelson