Editor's Note: This ongoing thrive series looks at how students on college campuses are innovating, overcoming challenges and living healthy lives.
SHELBY — Megan Owen is a healthy, thriving, 18-year-old from Shelby. It was only recently though, that she began to feel this way.
When she was 15-months-old, Owen’s mother switched her from breast milk to regular milk. She started to get very sick and lost weight.
The doctors thought it was just a cold, but she wasn’t getting better. Finally, they decided to run some tests.
The results troubled the doctors; it looked as though Owen had cystic fibrosis. They decided to do a sweat test, which measures the concentration of salt in a person’s sweat.
This painless medical test is considered the “gold standard” when it comes to diagnosing cystic fibrosis (CF). The chlorine level of the sweat determines the diagnosis.
If it reads 29 or below, CF is unlikely, while 30-59 means that CF is possible. And 60 and up means CF is likely. Owen’s reading was 95.
Those who fall in the middle range, “don’t show symptoms, but still carry the gene,” according to Owen. This is where both of her parents are. It was a complete shock; they had no idea they were carriers when Owen first showed symptoms of the recessive disorder back in 2001.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry, over 30,000 people are living with CF in the United States, and approximately 1,000 new cases of CF are diagnosed each year.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a progressive genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system as well as many other organ systems. It causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, which leads to life-threatening lung infections. CF causes extreme damage to the lungs and digestive system, and like many other medical disorders, it can vary in severity.
The projected life expectancy for someone with CF is 41 years.
Owen mentions that “some have to be on the transplant list, some literally can’t leave their house because they are so sick, (and) some have to be on oxygen.”
Even though Owen doesn’t find herself in any of these categories, CF has still affected her life in a major way. She has faced CF with courage, tenacity and grace, so much so that she was one of the 10 local students recognized for their courage by the McGowan Courage Award.
“My whole life, when I would get sick, I would be put in the hospital. How my doctors would describe it was (that) it was just a ‘Band-Aid.’ It wouldn’t stop the production of the mucus, it would just help (the symptoms). So I would get better, and then when my mucus would build up again, I would get sick again and it was a constant circle.”
Owen always had a strong relationship with the Lord, but cystic fibrosis made her doubt. She wondered how she was going to help change other peoples’ lives when she was trapped in a hospital bed.
Although she questioned why God would allow her to contract CF, she kept her favorite Bible verse in mind - Romans 8:18, which states, "yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later."
Then, in October of 2019, the FDA released a new drug called Trikafta. On Dec. 12, Owen started the medication.
She figured it was just another Band-Aid, like all of the other medications she had taken before. Although she felt better, she didn’t notice any major changes.
At her next monthly check up, Owen’s doctors used a pulmonary function test to see how well her lungs were working. A normal person reads around 100.
Before she started Trikafta, Owen tested 65. After only a month of taking Trikafta, Owen reached a score of 105.
“My lung function went from 65 to 105 in a month. That never would have happened on antibiotics, never. I also gained 4 pounds in a month.”
She wanted to test her sodium again. This time Owen scored a 33 on the sweat test.
“So basically, I’m in a carrier state. I no longer have the symptoms of CF, but I still carry the gene.”
Owen said this was the point when she realized that this new drug was the real deal. She takes two pills in the morning and one at night, and although it isn’t a cure, it has helped Owen tremendously.
“I’m only a few months in, but how my doctors are describing this is, this isn’t the Band-Aid, this is literally stopping the production of mucus.”
At her next appointment in March, Owen says her doctors plan to start taking her off of some of her medication, such as aerosols, which she no longer needs.
“When I was in first grade, I couldn’t reach 40 pounds,” she said.
Owen had to have a feeding tube inserted which would give her body the extra nutrients it needed. She has had it ever since, but hopes to get that removed soon, too.
“They said if I am 121 pounds, then I can have it taken out. Right now I’m at 118. My mom said, ‘you’re going to be wearing bikinis this summer,’ I never thought she would say that,” Owen said giggling.
Today, she is a thriving freshman at NCSC, and was just hired at The Waterford at Mansfield, a senior living community. Owen has a heart to serve others and feels that is what God has called her to do.
She also recently applied to the nursing program at NCSC. Once she receives her nursing degree, she hopes to work with life-flight or as a trauma nurse for a large hospital like OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.
For those who are facing difficult times, Owen reminds them that there is always something good to come out of it and that God will never give us more than we can bear.