NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)– If you were born with cystic fibrosis in the 1950s and managed to live well into middle age, you have defied huge odds.

CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez met one patient who managed to do just that and explained how he’s become a role-model for others.

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“I remember overhearing the doctor saying to my parents that ‘you’re lucky if Jerry make it ’til his sixteenth birthday’ and ‘just keep him comfortable at home,'” 59-year-old patient Jerry Cahill told CBS2.

Cahill was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in the late sixties and his father thought his son should spend as much time as possible with his brothers, which meant lots of sports.

Scenes from the documentary “Up For Air” show Cahill’s life-long devotion to athletics and his typical day, which can be exhausting. However, he credits this activity to keeping him alive with a disease that progressively destroys the lungs.

“If the cystic fibrosis mucus doesn’t move, it’s so thick it’s like concrete and it just clogs the lungs,” Dr. Emily DiMango said.

That mucus is a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to pneumonia and eventual death, Gomez explained.

“It’s a progressive disease and you can’t stop it. You can slow it down a bit, and I was fortunate through a lot of my exercise and nutrition and positive attitude that I was able to slow it down a little more,” Cahill said.

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It’s also taken extraordinary discipline. Cahill takes dozen of medications on a ’round the clock schedule. Some have to be inhaled and some are IVs. He uses a special vest that pounds his chest to loosen the mucus in his lungs, but it was a losing battle. Four years ago, Cahill needed a double-lung transplant and then he says it was back to exercise.

“Most people with cystic fibrosis, they’re just happy they’re able to breathe. But your lungs, to me, are like muscles– you need to take care of them and exercise, really to honor my donor,” Cahill said.

Cahill currently works at the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis, hoping to inspire patients to keep fighting so they can defy the odds.

“Everybody that I grew up with with cystic fibrosis, they’re basically all gone. People that I grew up with in the hospital, they’re gone. I’m blessed and fortunate that I’m around and it’s difficult,” he said.

Only a little more than half of lung transplant patients survive as long as Cahill has after their transplant.


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