Reprinted from the Patriot Ledger
by John Reilly
What would it be like to be born with a target on your chest? A bull’s-eye stamped with a number smack in the middle of the hub?
Tim Wotton knows. Gunnar Esiason too. At a very young age, they were both diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease that causes mucus to thicken up and clog your lungs. This will eventually cause scarring from infections and leave the lungs unable to supply sufficient oxygen to the body. And CF sufferers will either slowly suffocate or their battered immune systems will tire from the relentless battle against infections and will gradually shut down. There is no cure.
These two know this. Tim Wotton, from Morden Surrey, England, and Gunnar Esiason, from Long Island, N.Y., come from very different worlds and vastly distinct backgrounds and they are separated by thousands of ocean miles – but they share one commonality. They know.
The life expectancy of a CF sufferer is 38 years old.
And this common knowledge has shaped their individual personalities. This should come as no surprise. Daily nebulizer treatments, 300-plus pills a week, morning and evening physiotherapy sessions required to explode the mucus from your lungs would have a way of dampening your spirit. Beating you down. The uncompromising lifestyle of a CF sufferer would have a way of making you feel angry and cheated and cynical.
Well…maybe not so much.
“When your longevity in this world is perpetually in doubt, it has a dramatic effect on what you do, how you think and your priorities in life,” Tim Wotton told me in an email. “To be here at age 40 is a most precious gift.”
Esiason, son of former NFL QB Boomer Esiason and current English major at Boston College, echoes Wotton’s sentiment.
“I tried not to ever let this get out in front of me,” Gunnar told me. “It’s a part of my life. But it’s not the definition of my life.
Wotton recently passed his 40th birthday and often blogs about his experiences dealing with CF. And even though he has exceeded his life expectancy, he does not view his future as one in which he is living on borrowed time.
“I see reaching 40 as a celebration of my life to date and what it has taken for me to survive;” Wotton said. “But I also view it as a launch pad for the rest of my life – with my hour glass half-full rather than half-empty.”
“College has been a great experience,” Gunnar said. “And the future is so much brighter than it was 20 years ago. Now I consider myself a normal college kid. And my hope is that every kid born with CF one day feels this way.”
So ultimately, these two men share more than the knowledge of a number. They both imagine a world without CF. They imagine a world in which nebulizers and injections and physiotherapy and IVs are no longer a part of their daily routine. They imagine a world in which they can run and sleep and eat without the unyielding fear of a coughing convulsion.
And more remarkably, Gunnar Esiason and Tim Wotton exhibit no desperation. No anguish or hopelessness or emptiness. They speak humbly and graciously. And both of these men, completely unconnected of one another, live indistinguishable lives full of hopes and dreams and, yes, even optimism.
From opposite shores, these two have stared across the same mighty ocean and out into a vast, dark night. Yet they have seen, and shared, only stars.
It is true they both imagine great and wonderful things. But, for the most part, they are just so grateful for what they have. And for the years they’ve been given.
And can you imagine that.