Jessic'a Journey

Born on February 22, 1984, Jessica Makris was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at birth. 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. 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. CF also obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food. 
As of 5:02 pm on the day of Jessica’s birth, the neonatal specialist had already left the hospital. Luckily he had forgotten something and came back into the building. He heard his name being paged and rushed to take over her delivery. Because of a perforated intestine, her stomach was 4 inches larger than her head. Thus, her delivery was both difficult and traumatic. Jessica needed surgery almost immediately. After the surgery, the results were clear; she had CF and would probably not make it through the night. Despite a difficult birth, Jessica proved to be a miracle and made it through the first night and all the nights that followed. After two months in the neonatal intensive care unit, Jessica went home with her parents. Two years later, Jessica’s parents were blessed with the arrival of their son. Jessica's brother P.J., was also diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. According to Jessica, she thanks God everyday because she has him to share her life with. He always knows what she is going through and manages to find the humor in everything. When they were kids, Jessica said that he could even make being in the hospital fun. 
Jessica feels that her parents are the most amazing people in the entire world. They have always been supportive of everything she wanted to take on. As a kid her activities included ballet, tap, jazz, gymnastics, cheerleading and track and field. She has always been really active and credits that to be part of the reason she managed to stay relatively well throughout her youth.  Additionally, she has always been a good patient, doing whatever it takes medically to maintain the health she has strived for.  She spends between two and three hours a day doing aerosols and other therapies, an hour a day getting exercise, and usually 2 doctor's appointments a week . She takes an exorbitant amount of pills each day, including digestive enzymes, antibiotics, and vitamins. Furthermore, Jessica has CF induced diabetes. She must monitor her blood sugar regularly and gives herself between 5 and 7 insulin shots a day. 
With the support of her family, Jessica left home to attend the University of Florida. While there she came down with a resistant strain of bacteria. She chose to fight it with aggressive antibiotics, the side effects of which cost her 35% of her hearing. There were many days when she could not even drag herself out of bed. With strong determination, Jessica graduated with a degree in Public Relations in 2007.  Unfortunately, the resistant strain of bacteria has not abated and Jessica continues to endure an extensive IV antibiotic regime that is administered through a port catheter in her chest. These antibiotics make her very nauseous so keeping any food down is difficult.
Currently, Jessica is living in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida with her parents so they can provide the medical and physical support she needs. 2014 was a very difficult year for Jessica which included several hospitalizations.  For several years Jessica was being monitored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her lung transplants.  Last year they removed her from their program.  This was a huge blow for Jessica and her family.  Fortunately, the transplant center at the Pittsburg Medical Center has just accepted her into their program.  It will be necessary for her to move to Pittsburg for at least 3 months prior and 3 months post transplant.

The financial challenges involved in a transplant are staggering, not to mention the living expenses of being in Pittsburg for at least 6 months. Jessica and her family are working hand in hand with the Children's Organ Transplant Association, (COTA) to raise funds to cover these expenses.  Since 1986, COTA has helped thousands of patients raise millions of dollars for transplant-related expenses.  COTA is a 501(c)3 organization; therefore donations to COTA are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.  COTA is the premier national organization helping families with transplant-needy children and young adults.  100% of all funds raised are used for transplant-related expenses.  COTA does not charge a fee or take a percentage of the funds raised. In the Palm Beach Gardens area, volunteers have raised over $100,000 for Jessica.  Efforts are now beginning in Beavercreek, Ohio where Jessica has extended family. 

In Jessica’s own words:  "I think that the most important thing CF has taught me is to roll with the punches and I've been punched way too many times to count. Living with CF is taking one step forward and two steps back with everything. You just have to keep stepping forward even if it feels like there has been no progress. It's a delicate balancing act between taking care of yourself and living your life to the fullest. I've learned that no matter how hard you try to control your body it still fails you at times. The only thing that is within your power to change is your attitude.  Attitude makes all the difference when you must deal with major set-backs." 

Jessica has always maintained the best positive attitude towards her illness.  She does not allow it to become an excuse for living her life nor does she want others to focus on that part of her.  She is extremely giving and caring, focusing on others rather than herself.  She is very humbled and feels so blessed by the efforts of so many friends and family that have rallied around her journey with CF.  She thanks each one of you from the bottom of her heart!