News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 20, 2014

VIDEO: Overcoming symptoms

Exercise plays key role in battling cystic fibrosis

TERRE HAUTE — Even when he was in grade school, it was obvious Justin Huxford was a special kid.

He was the first at Rio Grande Elementary School to walk 100 miles around the school grounds over the school year, one of just a handful of kids to meet the goal.

Now, at 21, Huxford exercises at least an hour a day, owns his own construction business and will graduate next month from Vincennes University with a degree in construction management. And he’s done all this with a chronic illness that kills some people by his age, while sending others constantly in and out of hospitals.

And, meeting him, you’d never know.

Justin is one of about 30,000 Americans with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. CF requires Justin to take thousands of dollars worth of drugs each month, all designed to help him deal with the symptoms of the disease, including breathing difficulty and an inability of his body to naturally absorb nutrients from food.

Despite all this, Justin holds powerfully to a positive attitude.

“You gotta have a positive attitude,” Justin said sitting in the living room of his family’s Parke County farm home. “Without a positive attitude, what do you have?”

Exercise — and a positive attitude – helps Justin stay out of the hospital and reduces the volume of medication he is required to take, he said. Laid out on a table, the containers for his daily medications cover about 12 inches from end to end. Without exercise, Justin said, they would stretch about three feet.

The last time Justin was hospitalized, his freshman year in high school, was a brief time when he wasn’t as active as usual, his parents said. Since then, he hasn’t slowed down.

“He’s always been busy, busy, busy,” said his dad, Jim Huxford. Justin has never been one to play video games, for example, he said. “He’s always outside.”

Justin’s stay at Riley Hospital for Children was brief – about a week – but it was enough for Justin. Even after he left, “the hospital came home with me,” he said, recalling the antibiotics he was forced to take on a round-the-clock basis for several weeks.

Not only does Justin seem to never stop, his mother, Teresa Huxford, is the same way. When Justin was diagnosed with CF at seven weeks of age, Teresa – better known as “Tree” – started almost immediately working to raise money to help find a cure and improve the lives of those with the disease.

“It’s a full-time job,” Tree said in reference to all her work for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. When she’s not raising money, she’s supporting the effort in other ways.

“I pray for [CF medical researchers] every day,” Tree said. “They are so dedicated and care so much. I can say that because I’ve actually met some.”

Tree Huxford is organizer of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Great Strides Walk in Vigo County. Last year, she and her team raised more than $33,000 – the most in the state.

This year’s Great Strides Walk will be May 4 in Hawthorn Park. There will be food and games. Anyone participating is urged to raise money for the event. Nearly every penny raised goes to promote research aimed at beating CF, Tree said.

Putting a little extra pep in the step of walkers this year will be a new drug called Kalydeco, which got FDA approval for use by a small percentage of CF patients in 2012. The drug is the first to treat the underlying cause of CF, a genetic mutation, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. As a result, optimism is high in the CF community, and the Huxfords hope the drug will be approved for Justin’s variation of the disease in a few years.

In the meantime, Justin remains positive and strong, surrounded by a loving and caring network of friends and family.

“I try to have as normal of a life as I possibly can,” Justin said, adding he owes a lot to the support and example set by his folks.

“I wouldn’t be as healthy as I am now if we didn’t have a positive attitude,” he said. “You learn from your parents.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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