Six-year-old Breezy Shiflett wants to be a veterinarian some day. For now, at her home in the E-Section, she keeps an eye on the wildlife in the backyard.
“Squirrel!” she says, pointing to a bushy tail scurrying across the lanai. “Mostly, I’m at school when he comes. I’m lucky today.”
You would never know by looking at her, or by listening to her describe how she likes losing teeth because the tooth fairy once gave her 10 bucks, but Breezy is lucky every day to be alive. She has cystic fibrosis, a genetic, chronic illness that creates a mucous buildup in the lungs. As a result, the lungs can become clogged and the pancreas can be hampered in its ability to digest food. There is no known cure. Life expectancy is 37 years.
Her mother, Jessica Bear, persistently took her to doctors until they had correctly diagnosed her at 4 years old and put her on medication and other treatments.
Bear also led the effort to start a local, annual Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis, which took place Friday, Sept. 24, at Town Center. Bear said about 200 people showed up, which was a tremendous turnout even country.
“That’s my talent — watching animals,” says Breezy, wearing purple flip-flops and purple pants. “Guess what? I have a pet swimming frog. … The main thing we see sometimes is golf balls on the other side of the lake. I picked two of them up and put them in my jewelry box. Because there was room for them.”
Breezy takes three pills with every meal, and her medicine routine changes frequently, as she battles different infections. She also takes nebulizers and inhalers. Every day or two, for about 20 minutes, she wears a special vest that fills with air and then vibrates her chest to loosen the mucous. She takes another pill to help her cough it up. Physical activity helps, and so Breezy is also on the cheer squad for the Imagine School Lions.
“But I’m a Georgia Bulldogs fan,” she says. She inherited the passion for the University of Georgia from her father, Nate Shiflett. “And I do not the like the Florida Gators,” she says. “My main thing that I really like is dogs. And I do not like alligators, because they kill dogs.”
“Breezy” is a nickname; her real name is Brianna, but when she was younger, long before she was diagnosed, her parents called her “Wheezy Breezy,” because she always seemed to have a raspy voice. She also didn’t gain weight, weighing just 23 pounds at 4 years old. Thanks to the treatments, Breezy is now approaching the 50th percentile, which has been one of Bear’s goals. Bear continues to do whatever is necessary for treatments (the vest cost $16,000), and she keeps close to friends in online, cystic fibrosis groups. She finds strength in the support she has received from people like Marie Butler, of Imagine School, who helped round up about 100 people for the Great Strides Walk. And Bear convinces herself that 37 is just a number — an average.
“Many people with (cystic fibrosis) reach their mid-20s and have living lung transplants or donor transplants,” she says. “You lose people who are a lot younger than that, but then there are some of them out there who are 60 years old.” And at the same time that she cares for Breezy, Bear also leans on her.
“Having spirit means you have a positive attitude, and doing your best,” Breezy says. “That’s our rules in class. To have, like, a smile on your face.”