Grant Prather knows what it's like to be sick. Since he was very little, Grant has had cystic fibrosis, a lung disease that makes it tough to breathe. The good news is that he's 23 now and goes to college. He feels better than he once did thanks to the double-lung transplant he had in May 2000. He used to have to carry an oxygen tank around to breathe, but now he can breathe normally, drive a car, exercise, run, spend time at the beach, and go to football games.
In fact, he feels so good that he and his family have created a charity called The Big Fun Box. The box is a big red lunchbox full of crafts and activities designed for kids who are stuck in the hospital. Grant and his mom, Jo Anne, got the idea because they made up all sorts of fun and silly games to pass the time in the hospital when Grant was younger. They hope to raise money so lots of kids can have The Big Fun Box at their bedsides.
"I learned that when I played a game in my head, or drew a picture or put together a puzzle, I thought less about how sick I was and more about the fun I was having," Grant said.
Since that's such a clever idea, we asked Grant to offer some more advice to kids who have to deal with serious health problems.
Take your medicine (take the ones that taste bad first)!
I had to take a lot of medicine as a kid (and I have to take a lot as an adult). Some were pills and some were liquids. I had trouble swallowing big pills, so my mom would crush them up and put them in applesauce.
When I had to take my liquid medicines, I always took the bad-tasting ones first so I could get it over with! Something cool my mom did was pour a very little amount of cola into a medicine cup. I'd place it next to the medicine and go for it! I'd swallow the medicine real fast and then drink the little bit of cola right after! It tasted a lot better than the medicine and got rid of the bad taste in my mouth. Taking medicines is never fun, but it's very important if you want to stay healthy!
Tell your doctor exactly how you're feeling.
If you do, they can give you the best treatment and you'll feel better faster. Sometimes I would start feeling a little more tired than normal at school or at home. I could tell because I'd either be coughing more or eating less or had some other symptom. This would be scary sometimes because I knew that I might be getting sick. But I always told my mom or dad when I wasn't feeling good. They would take me to see the doctor during the next day or so.
In a way, I didn't want to tell my doctor that I was feeling bad. But I knew that he needed to know so he could make me feel better. The expert that he was, he could tell when I was getting sicker anyway. Sometimes I would be scared that I would have to go in the hospital for a few days, take a new, yucky medicine, or have a medical test that would hurt. But I needed to get better, so I had to be honest and then brave about whatever happened next. My family was always there for me when I was feeling worried and that helped a lot.
Ignore people who may make fun of you for having CF (or any other problem).
They might stop if they don't get a reaction from you. When I would start coughing at school or at the mall, my face would get really red. Plus, it sounded weird. Some people would look at me. Most of them were worried about why I was coughing. But a few people (mostly kids) stared or made fun of me. My parents told me that I needed to try to ignore them and concentrate on myself.
If you have a health problem that's noticeable, a lot of people will look at you because they are curious. But if someone makes fun of you, try not to react. Some kids make fun of others because they want to feel cool and impress their friends. If you get upset at them, you're giving them what they want: attention. But if you ignore their comments or actions, they will usually leave you alone.
If you have CF, get plenty of exercise.
You'll have fun and make your lungs stronger! Getting exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. And unlike taking medicine or getting some kind of treatment, exercise is fun! It can be anything you like doing as long as it gets you moving — and your lungs working. Call a friend and play some basketball, ride your bike around the neighborhood, or go on a walk with your parents. As your physical activity increases, your lungs have to work harder to supply your body with the oxygen it needs.
When I was young, I played tennis. It was challenging and it allowed me to increase my stamina. Plus, it loosened up some stubborn congestion in my lungs and allowed me to get rid of it. I exercise 5-6 days a week now in the gym on campus. Sometimes after a long day, I don't feel like doing it, but once I get done, I feel energized and good about myself for doing it. Plus, it's a major reason why I have stayed healthy for so long. If you have CF, or any other health problem, talk to your doctor about how exercise can help you feel better.
Keep a positive attitude.
It goes a long way toward being healthy. Having cystic fibrosis is tough. And when you hear that you have to go to the hospital, it can get even tougher. One thing I learned as a kid was to keep a positive attitude. If my doctor told me that I needed to go into the hospital, I would be upset or a little mad at first. But then I tried to think of a few positive things about being there. I would think of the people I would get to see at the hospital. A lot of the nurses became my friends, so it was nice to see them again and talk to them.
Another good thing was I could stay up late and watch TV and eat (some) good food. Plus, I knew that when I was in the hospital the doctors would do exactly what my lungs needed. Sometimes I got to read a couple of books that I wanted to read, but didn't have time before. Missing school was almost a cool thing — except my teachers always sent me make-up work!
Whenever I was sick, I told myself that I would get better and get back to my normal routine soon (especially if I did everything I was supposed to). I kept a smile on my face, told jokes, and just tried to make the best out of a crummy situation. I know that keeping a positive attitude contributed to me getting better faster. And other people noticed my positive outlook. In the 6th grade, I was named the student with the most positive attitude. They don't have competitions like that in college, but I like to think I would win that title today, too!
And now some advice for kids who aren't often sick and might not understand what it's like:
Be a friend. I'm most familiar with having cystic fibrosis, but there a bunch of health problems that kids can get. There's diabetes, cancer, sickle cell anemia, and physical handicaps, just to name a few. These kids sometimes look a little different on the outside, have to take medicine, use special equipment, or miss a lot of school. But try to remember that these kids are just like you and your friends.
If you meet a kid who you think may be sick or handicapped, talk to your mom or dad about it. They may be able to answer your questions. If you're curious about a classmate who has a health problem, you may want to politely ask them about their condition. Or you could do a little research online to learn more about their illness.
Whenever I was stared at because I was coughing, I wished that everyone could've known about my CF and that it was very normal for me to cough a lot. I told my friends about my CF and they were glad I did. I was glad, too. They were able to help me when I needed them.
Reviewed by: Barbara P. Homeier, MD
Date reviewed: January 2006