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Against All Odds Part 1

Against All Odds Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

 

They first laid eyes on one another in the spring of 1986, when they were both admitted to the cystic fibrosis wing of Dallas' Presbyterian Hospital.

Kimberley Marshall was then sixteen, thin, winter-pale and beautiful, her red hair falling down the back of her pink nightgown. David Crenshaw was eighteen, and wore his usual T-shirt and faded grey pyjama pants. David would stand at one end of the hospital hallway, hoping Kim would come out of her room at the other end.

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"No way." The wing's respiratory therapist would say.
"No way she's going to look twice at you."

On the cystic wing of Presbyterian's third floor, about a dozen teenagers and young adults inhabit private rooms. Throughout the day, they receive vast amounts of antibiotics through intravenous injections. Some have thin oxygen tubes running into their noses; others use more elaborate machines to open their bronchial passages. Respiratory therapists pound lightly on their chests and backs, hoping to dislodge the mucus in their lungs. And there is always the sound of dry coughing, flinty coughing and spasms of coughing. The sound will echo up and down the corridor like a cold car engine trying to start.

Like a brilliant serial killer, cystic fibrosis is unstoppable. Although an array of pulmonary treatments and medicines allows patients to live more productive, pain-free lives, few survive into their thirties.

It was hard enough to imagine a love affair developing between two cystic fibrosis patients, let alone one between Kim and David. But that is what is so magical about their story.

When Kim Marshall came to Presbyterian in the mid-1980s, she knew she was fortunate just to be alive. The doctors had been expecting her to die since the day she was born on July 10, 1969, when she took her first breath and immediately began throwing up black-green mucus. Kim was wheeled into the operating room, where surgeons saved her by removing four feet of her intestine. But Dr. Kramer, who was then a young paediatrician, informed Kim's mother, Dawn, that it was only a temporary reprieve. At that time, before the advent of more-advanced treatments, fifty percent of kids born with cystic fibrosis were dead by the first grade; eighty percent were dead by their teens.

"This isn't supposed to happen to us." Dawn told Dr. Kramer.
Dawn, a beautiful young housewife, and her husband, a budding aeronautical engineer Bill Marshall, were a popular couple who attended Dallas debutante parties and saw their pictures printed on the society pages of the Dallas Morning News.
"All of a sudden," she recalls,
"it was like our lives stopped and we couldn't start again."

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Desperate to keep Kim alive, Dawn carried her on a pillow and put her to bed in a mist tent. For a total of three hours a day, she gently thumped on her chest and back. Kim's skin was as white as a dove and her bones stuck out so sharply in her arms that it seemed as if they would puncture her skin. To the astonishment of her doctors, however, she eventually became strong enough to go to elementary school. She even took ballet classes and joined a girl's soccer team.

But then came the days when Kim's body seemed to deflate, just like a rubber toy with a hole in it and Dawn would return her to the hospital, wondering if this time she would be too sick to recover. The routine became all too familiar - a few months of remission followed by a trip to the cystic fibrosis wing. Kim always brought along her stuffed animals, her favourite pink blanket and her diary. As the children in the rooms around her would die, one by one, Kim would write down her impressions
("Wendy Winkles died at 8.10 this morning! She suffered all night. It's better this way. Poor little thing").
"Kim was always so optimistic, so willing to smile." Dawn says.
"I think the diary was her way of preparing herself for what she knew would someday happen to her."

For a while, Kim did what she could to be like the "normals" (her nickname for kids without cystic fibrosis). In high school, she had A's and B's and always dressed superbly, wearing tea-length dresses to hide her spindly legs. If classmates asked why she had coughing spells, she would say she was suffering from asthma. Still, she could not ignore the reality of her life.

Against All Odds Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

 

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