For her entire life, Briana Dewitt has battled cystic fibrosis.
“Having CF requires a lot of maintenance, just in order to stay healthy and keep breathing and living every day, as normally as possible,” Dewitt said. “Growing up, I was kinda in and out of the hospital and that was something that became more prominent the older I got, especially as the disease progressed and my lungs became more scared and breathing became a little bit more challenging.”
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, CF causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system. The mucus clogs airways and traps germs which can lead to lung infections, respiratory failure and other complications. It also prevents the release of digestive enzymes that help the body absorb food and nutrients.
“Having a positive attitude and a good mentality is half the battle,” said Dewitt. “This is the hand of cards that I was dealt, and if I wanna have fun and have adventures and live a fulfilling life, it’s something that I have to deal with.”
She’s doing that by helping others as a physician assistant. Her career is inspired by the people that help her battle CF.
“Seeing the way my providers treated me and answered my questions and helped me navigate through chronic illness, I wanted to be that person for someone else that was gonna help them get through hard times and figure out what the best plan for them would be,” she said.
She focuses on gastroenterology and hepatology. But she can’t go to work without doing her treatments.
“The purpose of this is to clear out airways,” Dewitt said. “So the nebulizers help break up and thin the mucus, and the vest which vibrates helps break up the mucus that’s very thick and sticky.”
Recently, new medicines have been approved marking a historic breakthrough in CF treatment. One of them is a pill called Trikafta. It’s the first time most people with CF have access to a therapy that addresses the underlying cause, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
“The new treatments are absolutely extraordinary and amazing,” said Dewitt. “I have so many peers that have CF and people that I have met through the CF community that have basically a whole new outlook on life.”
Trikafta is available to people that have the main mutation of the CF gene. Unfortunately, Dewitt’s is rare.
“It is a little bit frustrating for me, knowing that I don’t have access to these new medications, but it makes me just that much more hopeful to see what the future may hold as the research continues,” she said. “I dream about the day where it’s not gonna be such a burden, but I have a lot of hope that one day that will be a reality for me.”