By: Mike Miccioli
I went to high school in Nashville, Tennessee and am currently a freshman at Harvard. Growing up in Nashville, I always focused on academics and staying healthy. On the academic side, I have always had an interest in mathematics, and physics is a fascinating way to apply math to science and the universe. I took all the toughest courses in math and science, and I competed in every math competition and Science Olympiad contest available. I did applied mathematics research at Vanderbilt University the summer after my junior year of high school, and different research during my senior year in condensed matter physics. On top of this hefty workload, my school required all its students to play sports after school year-round. With all of these obligations and many hours of homework each night after sports, working in my CF therapies was not easy; however, from an early age I learned the lesson that I had to prioritize my CF therapies that were necessary to keep me healthy and enable me to pursue my academics and sports. I had to be disciplined, and I got up early each day before school to make sure I did all my vests and nebulizers in the morning. There was a second round each evening, and I would always try to combine homework with both the morning and evening sessions. If a special circumstance would throw my schedule off and interfere with my therapies, I always made them up at different times during the same day; it was a given that I couldn’t miss therapies.
Compliance with the therapies that are available to us nowadays is crucial to having a good outcome with CF. There is generally a vast difference between the outcomes of patients who do their best to comply with their therapies every day and those who have a hard time completing theirs on a regular basis. I have always stayed aware of this fact and used it to motivate me to be compliant, and I believe it has paid off.
This fall I made the transition to my first semester in college, 1200 miles away from home and my support network. The first adjustment was being responsible for remembering to do everything without prompting from my parents. That wasn’t too difficult, and a bigger challenge was learning how to be more flexible in how I achieved my full compliance despite the fact that my schedule was different every day. Reflecting back on my years prior to college, my schedule was the same nearly every day, and this helped me stay disciplined in keeping up with my therapies. In college, I have had to look at each day and determine when I am going to fit in my routine as I meet all my academic obligations. Having completed my first semester, while it was frustrating at first, I eventually fell into a rhythm — from having nighttime labs one day to having an overloaded afternoon the next, eventually I encountered all the different scenarios I would be faced with, and it became easier to deal with each day’s changes.
I am continuing my studies of math and physics at Harvard and am currently in the process of applying for research opportunities for this summer. At this point, I am thinking that I want to pursue a career in scientific research. I guess one of the main reasons I feel this way is because I have personally benefited from modern advancements in medicine. I currently take one of the CFTR modulator drugs and have had good results with it, and it reminds me every day of how people can benefit from cutting edge research and have their lives changed in meaningful ways. I hope to be able to contribute back to the scientific community and perhaps some day make a difference for others.
This also relates back to the point I was making before about working hard to be as compliant as possible with your CF therapies. CF research has made amazing strides, and it appears that significantly improved CFTR modulators will be available to as many as 90% of those of us with CF sometime in 2019. The healthier we are when these new therapies become available, the better positioned we will be to take advantage of their benefits to the maximum degree possible. That is the other big reason to try and stay compliant. So, in conclusion, I want to encourage everyone to remember that while it is difficult to make compliance a priority day after day, without a break, particularly when you are in college with new vistas to explore and great demands for your time, it is worth it, and you will reap the benefits in the short run and even more so down the road when new therapies become available.