Race against time for Mariana, a young Mexican with cystic fibrosis


Mariana Vallejo, seen here during an interview with EFE on March 27, 2019, is engaged in a race against time: if within a month and a half she fails to round up the 9 million pesos (some $465,116) for her operation, it is probable that her lungs won't last any longer and she will die. EFE-EPA/Jose Mendez

MEXICO CITY.- Mariana Vallejo is engaged in a race against time: if within a month and a half she fails to round up the 9 million pesos (some $465,116) for her operation, it is probable that her lungs won’t last any longer and she will die.

The 23-year-old woman is suffering from cystic fibrosis, an illness that, among other things, causes pulmonary secretions to become thick and sticky and therefore obstruct the respiratory tract, and, without adequate treatment, the lungs become so damaged that they no longer function.

Mariana said she lived a normal life until age 16 when she was taken to the hospital with pneumonia, where «they found there was something odd about my lungs. They did some tests and realized I have cystic fibrosis,» she told EFE.

This illness, according to pediatric pulmonologist Jose Luis Lezana, «is a genetic disease – you don’t catch it, it’s not contagious.»

It is a defect in the chromosome 7 that makes a gene incapable of producing the transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein, which regulates the balance of salt and water on such body surfaces as the respiratory and digestive systems, the pancreas, the reproductive system and the skin.

«In cases of fibrosis, that protein does not function, and the alteration in the balance of water and salt causes symptoms of the disease,» the medical director of the Mexican Cystic Fibrosis Association (AMFQ) said.

For this illness to occur, both parents must be carriers of the defective gene, though their children have only a 25 percent chance of suffering the illness, a 50 percent chance of carrying the illness without getting sick themselves, and a 25 percent chance of avoiding it altogether.

That, besides the child getting timely treatment and attention, boosts life expectancy to 45 years in industrialized countries.

«But in Mexico and Latin America, life expectancy is more like 18 years because diagnosis is generally late, and there are neither specialized medical centers nor access to treatment» for this disease, Lezana said.

For now, the AMFQ is working on establishing the treatment protocol used in the United States, based on the interdisciplinary management of the illness.

Meanwhile, Mariana continues to believe that her case will not only raise awareness of this disease, but will save her own life.

«I’m on all the social networks like ‘Let us breathe with Mariana,’ and any support I receive will be important for getting my transplant and saving my life,» she said.

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