Athlete with Cystic Fibrosis and Diabetes Goes Against All Odds
The pass went way off course, and the hockey puck went flying down the street. James Cameron and another boy went sprinting after it, determined to reach it first. Hockey sticks in hand, they raced to chase down the puck. Breathing heavily, they reached it at the same time and began to struggle for possession. Cameron fought harder, and won possession, immediately sprinting away and taking the puck down the street towards the opposing team’s goal. As he approached the goal, he shot the puck as hard as he could, and he scored.
Everyone on his team started cheering and celebrating his goal, but Cameron stooped over and began coughing up a thick mucus. For a moment, the celebration dwindled, as Cameron’s hacking became more intense. He turned away from the group and spit off to the side, standing up and breathing heavily just as his teammates walked over to him to ask if he was okay. He shrugged it off, saying that it was nothing but asthma, and urged them not to worry. Before long, they were all back at it, playing hard as young boys do.
James Cameron never liked to admit that he had cystic fibrosis. For all of his life, he would fight his body to be able to play and compete with his peers. He would pretend that he didn’t have the progressive, incurable illness, which, if gone untreated, typically ended a child’s life before they were old enough to attend elementary school. He decided at a very early age that he would not let the disease slow him down, and today, he is a personal trainer and award-winning bodybuilder. His life is a message of hope to all who suffer from cystic fibrosis, and his message to the CF community is to never let cystic fibrosis slow you down.
CF and physical fitness
Cystic fibrosis is a genetically inherited disease that progressively limits a person’s ability to breathe. Thick, sticky mucus builds up on the inside of the lungs, pancreas, and eventually begins to inhibit other organ systems. This leads to a host of critical issues and complications, including severe lung damage, repeated infections, inability to combat infection, and eventual respiratory failure. When affecting the pancreas, the body can fail to properly break down food and receive necessary nutrients.
Needless to say, exercising with cystic fibrosis can present several challenges that the average individual does not have to face. Cameron’s bodybuilding success and career as a personal trainer would be difficult for anyone to pursue, but he has managed to add on to his achievements the overcoming of inhibited respiratory functioning and dietary difficulties. In addition to cystic fibrosis, Cameron is also diabetic and hearing impaired.
The cystic fibrosis foundation advocates exercise in CF patients because of research that has shown regular exercise to slow lung decline. Everyone benefits from regular exercise, but many physicians believe that regular exercise is the key to living a normal life and having a normal lifestyle. The exercise does not have to be going to the gym—or bodybuilding as Cameron has chosen—but it does need to be a cardiovascular activity that that patient enjoys, preferably one that can be done with friends or family members.
There are, of course, some limitations to what a person with cystic fibrosis can and cannot do in terms of exercise. The cystic fibrosis foundation recommends firstly that a person choose an activity that they enjoy, and that they can do for life. A lot of people living with cystic fibrosis have joint and bone problems that makes exercise difficult, and will want to choose an activity that is low-impact versus a high-impact activity like basketball or football.
No matter what the exercise, it should be a cardiovascular activity that improves both heart and lung functioning. Some other things that individuals living with cystic fibrosis should be aware of are weather and electrolytes. CF patients do not handle heat stress well, and should be cautious when exercising in the heat, especially in humid heat. As far as electrolytes are concerned, individuals with CF lose more salt when they sweat, and should be actively replenishing their electrolytes via sports drinks or electrolyte-rich solutions.
Growing up with CF
James Cameron was born in 1979, at a time when cystic fibrosis research was still in relative infancy. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which was founded in 1955, was still working to make its first major breakthrough in treating the disease, and was only just beginning to make specialized care available to children with CF. Cameron’s life depended on the CF Foundation’s ability to understand more about the nature of what was for a majority of the last century a relatively unknown disease.
Cameron grew up during the CF Foundation’s most significant breakthroughs, including the one that would save his and many others’ lives. The CF Foundation launched the Research Development program in 1980, when Cameron was 12-months-old, in order to bring the mysterious origins and nature of cystic fibrosis to an end. The accelerated research program sought to bring an answer and understanding into what the disease was, and where it came from.
Their efforts paid off. In 1989, the CF Foundation announced the discovery of the CF gene, the only determining factor in whether or not a person would live with cystic fibrosis or not. They discovered that both parents would need to pass on the gene to their child in order for the child to have the disease, and they were also able to determine that the gene itself existed in several different mutated strains. This breakthrough allowed the CF Foundation to push for even more therapies and treatment options throughout the 1990s.
By this time, the disease had taken a severe toll on Cameron. Growing up is hard enough on a child’s body, but with the additional difficulty of managing cystic fibrosis, Cameron found himself in and out of hospitals, suffering for most of his life. The older he got, the harder it was for him to ignore the symptoms of the disease and pretend that he did not have it. By the time he was 23, a lung infection hospitalized him and threatened his life. But all was not lost; Cameron would receive a life-saving treatment that would give him a fresh start on life.
Overcoming all odds
Cameron received a double lung transplant when he was 23-years-old, making him strong enough and well enough to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a nationally competitive bodybuilder. He went from being fully prepared to pass away, to having better respiratory functioning than he had experienced for a vast majority of his lifetime. Cameron’s energy and passion was contagious, and he used it to launch his career as a personal trainer, as well.
The threat to Cameron’s life remains, and in order to continue to maintain his strenuous lifestyle, he must take a daily cocktail of prescribed medications. The number of prescription pills is close to a dozen, each one helping him to fight infections, avoid complications, keep his diabetes in check, and prevent lung decline. Despite this, Cameron continues to work out and body build, and for the last several years, has been placing in national competitions. He encourages others to simply find what they are good at, and enjoy it in life.