November 26, 2012

Saranac woman becomes a 46er - with CF

PLATTSBURGH — Climbing all the Adirondacks’s highest peaks is an accomplishment, but being a newly inducted 46er is not what makes Nicole Matthews stand out.

Matthews, 36, of Saranac, did it with cystic fibrosis, a disease that makes even normal breathing difficult.

Cystic fibrosis, an inherited, chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, is usually diagnosed at birth, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The disease is caused by a defective gene and its protein product, which cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections and obstructs the pancreas, keeping natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.

But despite having cystic fibrosis, Matthews runs, bikes, works out and hikes. A few years ago, she decided that she wanted to become a 46er. This is no small feat considering a few of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis include persistent coughing, frequent lung infections, and wheezing or shortness of breath.

And while the life expectancy for a person with cystic fibrosis has been improving, throughout her childhood, Matthews’s family was told she would die young. But that hasn’t stopped her from pushing the envelope, keeping up a hectic lifestyle and being more athletic than the average person.

On a typical morning, Matthews is up by 4:15 a.m. for a breathing treatment, followed by a workout. She usually works out six days a week. Matthews works two jobs and also has custody of her nephew. The breathing treatments are repeated two to three times per day, and Matthews has to be vigilant about her diet since her cystic fibrosis has caused her to become diabetic.

“I work very hard to feel healthy,” Matthews said. “I think this is the key to living a long life for me. Mentally, I think this is about not allowing CF to take more than it already has from my life.”

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