Cystic Fibrosis Takes Center Stage on 'America's Got Talent'

Cynthia Dermody
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It's hard to look at these two beautiful sisters who suffer from cystic fibrosis belting their lungs out on America's Got Talent last night and believe they may not live past age 30. A close family friend of mine with the same condition didn't. But that is the average life expectancy of most people with the chronic lung disease.

Their performance last night of Miley Cyrus's "The Climb" took everyone's breath away, especially the judges'.

Ali, 20, and Christina, 13, are two of four siblings with the condition, which is inherited from a defective gene from both parents. If both parents carry the gene, there's a good chance that all their children will have it.

In the case of our family friends, three of their four children were diagnosed with the condition at a young age. The fourth and only surviving child, now in her 30s, had to soul-search long and hard before she decided whether or not to try for children of her own. She did, and they turned out to be fine.

The gene causes the body to produce an unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening infections. Our friend received a lung transplant in his 20s, but his body rejected the organ and he passed away in his early 30s.

Cystic fibrosis also affects the digestive system, halting the production of natural enzymes in the pancreas that helps the body break down and absorb food. About 30,000 children and adults in the U.S. have the condition, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The life expectancy for the condition is much higher than in the past thanks to transplants, treatments, and therapies, and many people with CF do live beyond their 30s and 40s. But as Ali acknowledges in a pre-show interview, that's the best she and her siblings can hope for.

"We can still enjoy every minute together," she said. "Cystic fibrosis does not define us."

She said she and her sister have been singing for as long as they can remember, and that it helps distract them from their disease. Ali said she wanted the judges to "look beyond all that and see us for who we are."

And they did. Judge Howie Mandel stood with hands clasped during most of the performance and even Sharon Osbourne got a little mushy. And then they did the best thing of all: They unanimously voted the singing duo to the next round in Las Vegas to compete in the show's championships. They have my vote!

 

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