HEFLIN — David Cobb fights for his life every day. Cobb is one of about 430 Alabamians who have cystic fibrosis — an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.
The life expectancy for CF patients is 43 years, according to Cobb’s wife, Misty. David is 41.
“When he was born his parents did not expect him to reach normal childhood milestones — I don’t think they understood, or they were told he wouldn't live to be 10 and then he won’t graduate high school,” Misty said. David graduated from Cleburne County High School in 1995 and said his treatment is very time-consuming.
“My days are a full-time job,” said David.
“We met in college and we were told that you will never be able to have children,” said Misty.
The couple have three healthy children, Charis, 6, Nathan, 10, and Jonas, 6.
David has been the exception to the rule that has been bestowed upon him.
“By the grace of God along with medical advancement has allowed for those things,” Misty said.
David worked in the IT department at Jacksonville State University for about 14 years and then was no longer able to work, according to Misty.
“Having CF means that you spend about six hours a day doing therapy at various times of the day which makes going to work difficult because he would need to take about a two-hour break or so midday to do therapy,” said Misty.
“It’s a very exhausting disease,” she continued as she held up a card with 14 medications and treatments David has to perform and take on a daily basis.
“It does become your life. People say, ‘what are your hobbies?’ Well, my hobby is staying alive,” Misty said, speaking for her husband as she set out to explain his daily regimen of treatments.
Besides the medications which fill up a sandwich bag for just one day, David must perform nasal rinses and wear a chest vest to break up mucus in the lungs.
The vest is outfitted with an air compressor and hoses which he has to use several times each day for 20-30 minutes.
“It fills up with air then it shakes you,” said Misty.
David also uses two different types of nebulizers — medical items which turn liquid medications into a mist that is inhaled— which have to be sterilized after each use.
“It’s all about mucus so it causes everything to be thick,” Misty said adding that the spring pollen has a profound effect on her husband.
Misty said that CF also affects David’s pancreas and he must use an insulin pump as well.
“It’s CF diabetes, not type one or type two, it’s a different kind of diabetes,” Misty said.
Misty said that there are more than 1,800 known mutations of CF, but David has one of the more common strains known as F508del.
CF also has a another negative component that isolates patients from each other, according to David. Due to the nature of the disease, CF patients can’t be physically near each other because they can exchange lethal germs.
“It’s very isolating because they stopped letting us socialize,” David said.
He explained that it’s very important to treat “ourselves holistically, not just the physical aspect”.
“The longer you live the sicker, weaker you get. It’s important to keep yourself engaged. I read a lot. We have support groups, we have mentoring,” he said.
Because of the threat of germs CF patients are paired virtually to encourage and mentor.
David said the conference calls, mentoring and virtual pairing is something “I could have desperately used when I was in my 20s.”
Misty said that a feature film at theaters now, “Five Feet Apart” dramatizes how two people with CF can’t be near each other.
Earlier this month, Misty went to Washington, D.C. for “March on the Hill” to raise awareness of the disease. Over 70 people went to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers, asking for help with:
— Protecting Medicare and Medicaid
— Making sure that health care is affordable and accessible
— Continued robust funding to the National Institutes for Health and the Food and Drug Administration
Misty said that the scope of treating CF is changing.
“Instead of treating symptoms they are changing and targeting the actual defective components in the body or the genes within the body. Let’s try to cure it by repairing the broken DNA,” she said.
David has been taking a very expensive drug two times a day called a modulator which attempts to fix the broken protein in the body.
“It helps, some of the cells begin to work as they should, but after eight hours they quit, you have to do the process all over again,” he said.
To raise awareness, Misty has organized a fundraiser to benefit the CF Foundation for Alabama on April 20 at the Redeemer Church in Oxford on Friendship Road. There will be a yard sale from 7-11 a.m. and a cake auction at 9 a.m.
Last year the state of Alabama got back $17 million dollars in grants from the national CF foundation which helps benefits the research center at UAB.
For David, the current dry weather is the best time to get outside despite the pollen.
“I buy dust masks by the case.”