SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Around 40,000 children and adults in the United States have Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic lung and pancreas disease.
Of those people, only half of them are over the age of 18. While the science and treatments are improving, there is still no cure.
On the outside, Dannika Weelborg looks like any other college student, going to classes and doing homework. But unlike most college students, every day Dannika is battling a disease.
“Cystic fibrosis is a genetic lung disease that I was born with. It causes the mucus in my lungs to be super, super thick; a lot thicker than the normal average human. So it causes me to cough a lot and get sick really easily because the bacteria, instead of going through my lungs and through my body, it gets stuck,” Dannika said.
When she was three, doctors told Dannika’s parents her coughing was due to things like asthma or allergies. But after switching doctors at the age of six, Dannika was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, or CF. While both parents have to have the genetics for CF, there’s only a one-in-four chance their child will get both genes.
“One gene from dad and one gene from mom and I got both of them,” Dannika said.
Most CF patients are diagnosed by the age of two.
“There is a blood test when infants are born, that heel prick that usually catches it. But that test was started at the Watertown hospital, where she was born, a month after she was born,” mom Jodi Weelborg said.
A large part of treating her disease is wearing a vest that beats her chest to help break up the mucus stuck in her lungs, along with inhaling medicine that makes her cough and thins her mucus.
“It’s 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at night, when she’s healthy. When she’s not healthy, it was up to four times a day,” Jodi said.
Dannika started out in public school, but switched to home schooling because of her health.
“When we started, we just did it sort of as an experiment because the two years before she had been hospitalized twice each of those years. And when we started home schooling, her health was better. She was not hospitalized at all that first year; she wasn’t on antibiotics maybe once,” Jodi said.
“So then throughout high school, my mom just gave me the option and said, ‘Do you want to keep going to public school and play public sports or would you rather just do dance and be homeschooled?’ So I just chose my health,” Dannika said.
Now Dannika is in a new era of her life, starting her first year of college.
“Throughout high school, I really didn’t get the chance to meet like those really good friends. Like those girls that are going to be your bridesmaids in your wedding and the girls that, just friends that will have your back no matter what. Friends that will sit with you while you do treatments and make sure you do all the things you need to do. So I really wanted that experience,” Dannika said.
“But it’s hard to have that disease in the back of your mind knowing, ‘I can’t go; I have to do treatments first,’ or to listen to your body that if you’re not feeling well, you need extra sleep. Can’t hang out with all the friends and still stay caught up on homework and get everything done,” Jodi said.
While there is a higher risk of getting sick because she’s around more people, Dannika is ready to take on college and all the adventures that come her way.
“It’s hard to face reality that her life might not be as long as everyone else. But it could be, we never know how long we’re given or how much time we have. I’ve always tried to teach her to live her life to the fullest,” Jodi said.
“So I personally wouldn’t change it for the world. Yes, I would love to be cured. Yes, I would love for my lungs to work perfectly, but at the same time I wouldn’t have met the people or be in the same place that I am today without it,” Dannika said.