Battling Bruin: Caleigh

Posted March 2014

The ability to breathe is something that most people take for granted. The average person takes about 28,800 breaths a day. For people living with cystic fibrosis, those breaths are not so easy; it will eventually be a painstaking struggle as they will have to fight to breathe. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections; and it obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food. In the 1950s, few children with cystic fibrosis lived to attend elementary school. Today, advances in research and medical treatments have further enhanced and extended life for children and adults with CF. Many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.

Our Battling Bruin, 23-year-old Caleigh Haber struggles with this every day. Just the fact that she graduated high school was a major life milestone because she was not expected to live past the age 16. From an early age, Caleigh's parents wanted to involve Caleigh in as many "normal" activities as possible. She joined gymnastics and cheerleading and competed at a professional level. She was a natural given her slight build and boundless energy. Her radiating smile drew people to watch her while performing, often in the spotlight as the cheer team’s main "flyer". After graduating high school, Caleigh again defied the odds by moving to San Francisco to pursue her biggest dream of becoming a chef at the Le Cordon Bleu. Along the way, there were set backs which put her in the hospital, but that only drove her to work harder at accomplishing a degree.

In order to succeed in this highly competitive career, Caleigh often worked 13 or more hours each day on top of her medical regimen. She often woke up when it was still dark out to do her critical breathing treatments and then stayed up past the point of exhaustion to be sure she was ingesting enough calories for the day. Even with all of the struggles she endured, Caleigh says that it was worth every second she was able to spend in the kitchen living her dream.

After Caleigh's internship, she began working as a pastry cook. The adrenaline and excitement of the fast paced job brought her such passion that she would go home unable to sleep, anxious to get back into the kitchen. Creativity, texture, temperature, taste; all the things chefs in school would look for brought her a great sense of accomplishment. As time went by, those are the things that forced her to strive increasingly harder to be the best she could.

With so much happening in her life personally and professionally, she had reached her peak at a very young age. Unfortunately, that dream soon faded as Caleigh's health worsened. The damage done to a person’s lungs caused by cystic fibrosis is not reversible. Many living with the disease will eventually need a double lung transplant, and that is what Caleigh is hoping for now. The following is a personal message from Caleigh:

"My struggle makes me who I am. I take this invisible disease; naked to the uninformed eye for what it is and let it be. Now it's time with your support to enjoy life with all that it comes. To embrace the experiences and capture the moments, whatever they may be and fight through it. I've known pain, struggle and defeat that others will never have to experience, nor should anyone. Cystic fibrosis has made me the friend, sister, daughter, who I am today - I have accomplished many goals, but I am not finished yet, not even close. Please follow me on these social networks and help support my journey as I fight to breathe. Donate to help me rise and breathe."

You can follow her journey on her website: http://www.fight2breathe.org/
@fight2breathe #fight2breathe #TeamCaleigh

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