Diagnosed at four months old with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Meghan Richardson, 18, has already achieved many milestones throughout her life. Her next one? Transitioning from pediatric care to adult care for CF at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H). For someone living with CF —an inherited chronic disease that affects the respiratory and digestive system—this is a transition to be celebrated.
"CF used to be a Pediatric-only disease. Until 20 years ago, there were very few or no adult CF centers. Since then, adult CF programs have developed around the country and have been mandated by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, because patients are now living into adulthood and becoming productive members of society—going to college, having families and beginning their careers," Margaret Guill, MD, Pediatric Pulmonary and Richardson's provider, says. "For Meghan, this represents a transition from being a dependent child and adolescent to becoming an independent adult with the expectation of having a real adult life."
Thriving with CF
One of the main issues seen with young children and CF is a failure to thrive. Richardson has focused her life on breaking through that barrier.
"Growing up, CF would affect me in different ways, mostly by being sick and in and out of the hospital (the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock) all the time, or missing a lot of school. It affected me because I saw how different my life was than the average kid," Richardson says.
But, Richardson says, if not for her CF, she never would have started her inspirational speaking.
"I've been speaking at different CHaD events ever since I could talk, and as I got older, I thought, 'Why don't I turn this into a huge inspirational speaking gig?'" she says.
Since then, Richardson has spoken at countless schools and events, sharing her story and providing hope to others.
"I like the idea of helping somebody and making them see things differently. I am essentially there to inspire them to be a better person," she says. "If I could just help and inspire one person my goal would be complete. And I think I exceeded that, big time."
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was created in the 1970s, and under the leadership of CEO Bob Beall, MD, it has broken barriers in collaboration between nonprofit corporations and industry to move CF research forward. Through funding from the foundation, hundreds of thousands of potential drug treatments have been screened for efficacy against this disease, and a few have made it to clinical trials and marketing with game-changing effect. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is one of many CF Centers that has participated in research studies coordinated by the CFF, as well as in the development and testing of new procedures and practices for cystic fibrosis patient management.
Last year marked the first time nationally that the number of CF patients over the age of 18 surpassed the number of patients under the age of 18. Life expectancy for CF patients is now well into middle adulthood, and the anticipation is that it will keep rising.
"My doctors at CHaD recently fought for me. There is this new CF pill that will basically put my CF in remission, but the pill is $22,000 per month. My health insurance wouldn't cover it at first, but my doctor's made it happen," Richardson says. "After a couple of weeks of taking this pill, I kept having this reoccurring thought popping into my head; I am going to outlive my parents, my best friends and even my grandparents," she says.
Before having access to this medication, Richardson knew her life expectancy was possible only to her 30s. "I am not only going to live until I am an old lady because of this pill, but I am going to live to be an old lady because of my doctors, nurses and Child Life specialists at CHaD. I am so lucky to have them on my side and so thankful for all they have done for me."
Richardson's mother, Sue Whalen, says her daughter is spunky, driven and is always willing to help others.
"I've sat with her every time she was in the hospital, and now to see her motivate others—it's awesome to see her talking about her life, and not being afraid of it. She helps others understand that everybody has difficulties, and she talks about not judging people by their covers," she says. "I'm looking forward to everything with her. Honestly, I never really thought about her adult world future, because her life expectancy was early 20s, then 30s and now 60s, 70s, 80s even. I'm looking forward to her completing college, pursuing a career in criminal justice, and eventually grow her own family, and just continue to help others."
A Salute to Meghan Richardson
For more information about Meghan, watch this video: