You hear a lot of talk about how positive thinking can help patients to beat everything from cancer to the common cold. Fairfield resident Tim Sweeney is living proof that the right attitude is the best medicine - just ask his wife, Beth.
"He was always the optimistic one," says Beth of her husband, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. "When things got bad, I was the one pushing the baby stroller around, thinking 'My husband is going to die.' But he would say, 'I'm going to beat this.'"
Diagnosed at birth, Tim never let CF stand in his way. A competitive bodybuilder, he even won the title of "Mr. Connecticut" in 2003, at the age of 26. Tim and Beth met at the Equinox health club in Darien, where both worked as personal trainers.
Despite his strength, it only took a couple of years for CF to waste Tim's muscled physique away, leaving skin and bones in its place. Shortly after the birth of Beth and Tim's son Timmy in 2008, Tim's pulmonologist gave him less than a year to live. His only chance for survival was a double lung transplant.
The news came as a shock to Beth, who remembers "collapsing on the floor" when the doctor told her. A months-long roller coaster ride followed, with three "false alarms" (initial donor matches that ended up being incompatible).
"The false alarms really took all the wind out of our sails," says Beth. So much so that the couple almost didn't want to go back to the hospital when the fourth opportunity arose. Tim had just been discharged, and "I wanted to go home," he says. He was tired of the hospital and desperate to see his little son. But he summoned up that old strength for one more try, on November 10, 2009 - and this one was an unprecedented success. Most double lung transplant surgeries involve the breaking of ribs and an enormous incision; because of his athletic anatomy, Tim's surgeon was able to leave all of his bones intact and make a much smaller cut. He was taken off his breathing tube later the same day, and was discharged in just six days for a procedure which usually requires a minimum of three weeks in the hospital. Maybe that's because he kept himself busy during his stay.
'"The nurse said he was the only patient to ever ask for dumbbells," says Beth. "I just walked up and down the halls with my I.V. pole all night," says Tim.
Beyond grateful for her husband's miraculous recovery, not to mention the outpouring of donations (Equinox in Darien, for one, held a huge fundraiser to help cover the family's medical expenses), Beth knew she "had to give back." With Tim home, doing things he hasn't been able to do for years - like going up and down the stairs and lifting Timmy in his arms - Beth devotes her time to the foundation she started, Breathe for a Cause.
"The point is to raise money and awareness," says Beth. She designs and sells t-shirts featuring the American Sign Language symbol for "breathe," along with Tim's initials. One in 26 people are "carriers" of cystic fibrosis, which Tim says is the number one killer among genetic diseases.
On Sunday, May 16th at 10 a.m., Beth will host the First Annual Breathe for Cystic Fibrosis 4 Mile Run, which will start and stop at Staples High School in Westport. There will be prizes compliments of Equinox for first overall finishers (male and female) and the top three finishers in each age division. The deadline for pre-registration is May 8th, and the fee is $30 (proceeds benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation). From those who can't make the race, donations are welcome.
"The concept is kind of 'Run for those who can't run,'" says Beth. Thankfully, Tim doesn't fall into that category anymore. He even plans to race in the New York Marathon this year, alongside his surgeon and pulmonologist.
For more info, go to www.breatheforacause.com.