Despite suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF), having spent most of her time during high school either at home or hospitalized and having undergone a double-lung transplant, Rachel Sweet will graduate high school on June 2nd, becoming yet another example of the determination seen in those who live with the disease. Rachel overcame the difficulties and obstacles that CF presented in succeeding in school, and is now celebrating her impressive achievement with her class at Lincoln-Way West High School.
For the first three years of high school, when she should have been facing problems like homework and an active social life, Rachel Sweet spent most of her time sick at home or at the hospital. A double-lung transplant, performed at the Loyola University Medical Center, became an option to increase her quality of life during her junior year. Due to her discipline and determination, she is going to graduate on-time with her class and will receive the Lincoln-Way Foundation Scholarship, helping her continue her studies.
“I’m probably going to be crying like a baby,” said her mother, Sue Sweet, in a press release. “Rachel has come such a long way and we’re so proud of her. It’s going to be an unbelievable experience.” Rachel had increasing difficulties in breathing properly and absorbing nutrients from food, since CF causes the formation of thick fluid in the lungs and other organs. Despite using a supplemental tube feeding, she had little appetite and ended up weighing just 85 pounds.
When the family realized her need to stay home or hospitalized due to CF complications, they started using a tutor several days per week to help keep Rachel on track. She did have to retake Algebra II and Trigonometry, but for the rest of the school subjects she was able to keep up with the pace of her class. “I’m proud that I am able to graduate with my friends,” she said.
After receiving the double-lung transplant on March 15, 2014, Rachel’s life changed and she remained healthy throughout her senior year. Like any other girl her age, she can now go to the mall or the park with her friends, she attended the senior prom, earned her driver’s license and found a job at a candy shop.
Jim Sweet, Rachel’s Dad, said that prior to the transplant, it was difficult for her to keep up with her parents. However, “now, we can’t keep up with her.” When talking about the upcoming graduation, after which Rachel is planning on going to the Joliet Junior College to study business, Jim Sweet added that he will also certainly become emotional. “I know I’m going to get goosebumps,” he said.
Receiving new lungs, a procedure performed successfully by Jeffry Schwartz, MD, obligates Rachel to a lifelong follow-up care and monitoring, which is being conducted by pulmonologist Erin Lowery, MD and other physicians and nurses at Loyola. The center is home to the oldest and largest lung transplant program in Illinois, with over 800 procedures performed.
Given the progression of the disease, like most people with CF, Rachel faces continued health struggles throughout her education and adulthood. However, with the help of new therapies as well as promising therapeutic discoveries on the horizon, she and other young cystic fibrosis patients finally have medical breakthroughs to aid them in pursuing their dreams and goals.