- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (AP) - There was a time when fear and frustration ruled Chris Pry’s life.

During that time, the Crystal Lake man couldn’t walk up seven stairs without needing to rest at the top. He spent those years being afraid of an operation he knew he’d need, the same one his younger brother didn’t survive.

Pry, 35, has cystic fibrosis. And his life looks starkly different than before a double lung transplant he underwent about a year and a half ago.

“I had symptoms since I was born … but doctors didn’t catch it right away,” Pry said. “They only caught it when my brother was born and he had complications from it right from birth.”

Pry said he and his brother, Michael, lived active childhoods, which helped keep them healthy through high school.

“But as soon as we went to universities, where we weren’t playing on teams and not getting the same kind of exercise, that’s when the symptoms really started,” Pry said.

A genetic disease that causes mucus buildup in the lungs, pancreas and other organs, cystic fibrosis, or CF, results in persistent lung infections and eventual respiratory failure along with usually a variety of other issues, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

It’s found in about 70,000 people worldwide with about 30,000 of those people living in the U.S. Mostly affecting children and young adults, CF comes with a life expectancy of about 37 years old.

For Pry specifically, it’s a disease that made hospital stays routine and eventually made drawing a single breath a laborious task.

Erin Lowery, Pry’s doctor at Loyola University Medical Center, said about 90 percent of patients with the disease will ultimately end up needing a lung transplant in order to survive.

That time came for Michael first.

“My brother went through the transplant process in 2010,” Pry remembered, sitting at a small table in a Crystal Lake Starbucks, his hands lightly wrapped around a coffee cup. “(Michael) didn’t make it through the surgery.”

After years of dealing with the disease together, it didn’t make sense, Pry added.

“Seeing him deteriorate faster - that was really hard because he was my younger brother,” he said, looking down.

Michael was 27 when he died, and not only was it a devastating loss for the family, but it reaffirmed one of Pry’s greatest fears when he went in for his own transplant four years later.

“Growing up, I knew we would face the whole transplant thing, and my biggest fear was passing away on the table, and then that’s what happened to (Michael),” he said.

But between 48 and 72 hours after he went under anesthesia, Pry woke up. Then, there was only relief and an immediate determination to pick up his life where he left off.

Months of pulmonary rehabilitation at Cary Physical Therapy got Pry to a point where he could not only live as he used to, but strive to do more.

Throughout his time at the Loyola hospital, he had heard a lot about Chicago’s Hustle up the Hancock, a fundraising event for the Respiratory Health Association. Climbing the 1,632 stairs seemed like the perfect way to restart his life, Pry said.

“I was surprised he was able to do it because his surgery had been so recent,” said Lowery, who did it herself last year on the same team as Pry. “But he was determined to do it.”

Throughout his recovery, Pry said Michael was constantly in the back of his mind.

Before the event started, he wrote on a poster set up for participants, “For Michael.”

“I got to the top and got my medal and on it said, ‘The 18th annual Hustle up the Hancock,’ ” Pry said. “I automatically thought of my brother because he was born on (Dec.) 18.”

Since then, his lung function remains at a normal level, and the disease, while still present, is no longer the debilitating burden it once was.

He exercises regularly, works at Cary Physical Therapy, and currently is training to do his second climb up the Hancock building on Sunday. And throughout it all, he said he’s always conscious of those who didn’t get the same opportunity.

“I feel very lucky to have this second chance,” he added. “I kind of try to live my life not just for me, but also for my brother and for the lung donor.”

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Source: The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald, http://bit.ly/1oBNfw0

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Information from: The Northwest Herald, http://www.nwherald.com

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