CF – a calling to faith
Cystic Fibrosis – more than just letters in the alphabet, a calling to faith
An incurable disease which affects one in every 2,500 Australians, CF is ‘the most common, genetically acquired, life-shortening chronic illness affecting young Australians today’.
From the outside, eighteen-year-old Pat Langfield seems just like any other teenager. He plays guitar, he is a devoted Paramore fan, and he can’t wait to clock up enough driving hours so he can get his licence. But what many people don’t know about Pat is that every moment of his life is a battle to survive. Every day, every hour, every minute presents a struggle – literally – for him to breathe. This is because Pat was born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), an incurable disease which affects one in every 2,500 Australians.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Federation, CF is ‘the most common, genetically acquired, life-shortening chronic illness affecting young Australians today’. In Pat’s own words, he describes it as a build-up of mucous along the walls of the lungs, cutting down the ease of breathing by as much as 70 percent.
“Cystic fibrosis is like breathing through a straw, all the time,” adds his mother, Jo Schilling. “His airways … are compacted with mucous.”
When Pat was first diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as a child, his life-expectancy was grim. But he has never let the statistics faze him. “I was told I would live until I was 12,” he says. “Then at 12, I was told 16. At 16, they said twenty-something and now that I’m 18, I’m thinking, ‘I can do this!’”
Pat was only 7 years old when he first began to understand what CF meant and how it would affect him. In the beginning, the disease started taking over his body gradually, causing him to be in and out of hospital once every six or so months, but the degenerative nature of CF means he now has to be hospitalised as frequently as every few weeks. This is a particularly difficult reality for someone who was once so full of life and energy. Indeed, from the age of four he was so energetic that his mother had to set an alarm just so that he would stay in bed of a morning.
“It’s as if he ate batteries for breakfast,” Jo says with clear amusement.
But her amusement quickly turns to melancholy with the realisation of yet another thing CF has stolen from this once-effervescent young man. Virus-like joint pains, debilitating stomach-aches, and extreme lethargy are but a few of the physical symptoms that Pat faces on a daily basis. Just the thought of getting out of bed can sometimes be a struggle.
But struggle or not, Pat is a fighter. Despite his challenging circumstances, he strives to maintain the semblance of a normal life. Growing up, his goals were very similar to those of most other children: he wanted to become a superhero. And age hasn’t dampened his dreams, since he jokingly maintains, “I still want to be Batman. Who doesn’t want to be Batman?”
Fortunately, this Bruce Wayne ‘wannabe’ is wise enough to have a back-up plan. Having developed a passion for building and construction early in life, Pat courageously accepted an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking after finishing school and is currently working towards earning his TAFE accreditation. But frequent hospital visits cause an already taxing workload to be even more difficult, with CF making it nearly impossible for Pat to commit to anything. “All I want to do is [be] like other teenagers,” he says. “Be in a band, hang out with friends… have a job and all that … but you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do.”
As for his quality of life, while Pat may experience the uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms created by the illness, he manages to remain positive and enthusiastic about his circumstances. “Where I am now, living at the beach, I think, ‘It can’t get any better than this’. It gives me a reason to keep going … God’s really put a lot of stuff in my life to [help me] keep the faith.”
Some of the ‘stuff’ Pat is referring to is the strength of his support system at home. The adoration with which he speaks about his family is easily apparent. With a cheeky smile and a twinkle in his eyes, he light-heartedly states, “Like apples, we’re bruised, but we’re still edible.”
Pat’s affection towards those closest to him continues to become evident when he is asked to name the person who has had the most profound effect on the way he looks at life. His immediate response is to simply answer, “Mum”. That one, often undervalued word, holds a depth of emotion the likes of which no flowery statements could ever compare. And as Pat continues to wax poetic about the virtues of his family, it is easy to see that not only his mother but also his stepfather, Tim Schilling, and younger brother, Liam, have been constant sources of strength over the course of his life.
Blessed to have a close relationship with his brother, one of the things Pat appreciates most is his sibling’s lack of sympathy. “I’ll be in bed [really sick] and then [Liam] would be like, ‘Oi, mate, it’s your turn to do the dishes!’… and I’d be like, [in a strained voice], ‘You’re a terrible person’ – and then he’d say, ‘Nuh, I’m doing this for you, mate. Come on, get up!’ … [but] then some days when I am really sick, then he’ll definitely go out of his way to help me.”
Pat’s stepfather, Tim, has also been steadfast in his support and encouragement. “He’s been a real influence in my life,” Pat states. “Without Tim … I don’t think I’d be the man I am today. I really thank him for that [and] I thank God for putting such an awesome [man] as an influence in my life … He’s not there just for me, he’s there for [all of us] … He goes out of his way to take care of us. If I could be like anyone, I’d want to be like him.”
Pat’s belief in Jesus is another foundational source of strength for him. “You can’t go wrong with God,” he says. “He’s always there.” On his roughest, most difficult days, Pat draws on his faith to get him through, along with his belief that, “I know the next day is going to be better”.
Pat’s life-changing journey with God began unexpectedly, with his mother waking him up one morning and saying, “Let’s all go to church!” He admits to being surprised – not only at her out-of-the-blue desire for a relationship with Jesus, but also at what he discovered for himself.
“There was a band and everything,” he says, laughing at the memory. “I thought, ‘Okay, I could get with this’.”
It took a few more weeks before Pat made his own commitment, a decision he credits to the solidarity of his best friend, Matt Seabrook, who accompanied Pat to the service that day. When the pastor asked if anyone would like to receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, Matt turned to Pat and whispered, “I’ll do it if you do it.”
From there, Pat’s relationship with God grew from strength to strength, but he will never forget those words offered by his friend. “If it wasn’t for him saying that, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Pat states with a fond smile.
To this day Matt remains a faithful friend to Pat. “You are my bestest friend ever,” Matt writes via Instagram. “You [are] more like a brother to me … I have never given up on you … and I never will … You mean everything to me … You [are] the strongest person I know.”
That inner strength Pat epitomises is clear for all to see, but it was put to the test in recent months when he faced a particularly challenging time in his life. Towards the end of 2013 Pat’s lung capacity was down to just 20 percent – an alarmingly low reading – and his doctors had little option but to outline the bleak possibilities of his future.
Knowing the distressing circumstances Pat was dealing with, some of his friends took it upon themselves to launch a social media campaign they titled #prayforpat. The idea was inspired by Isaiah 49:16, where God says, “See, I have written your name on the palms of My hands.” Pat’s friends and family quickly jumped on the idea, writing his name on their palms and uploading the photos with the hash-tag as a way to get his story to the world and to encourage people to pray for him.
“Prayer changes things,” Jo says firmly. “I don’t think people realise the value of prayer.”
In Pat’s case, prayer did change things. In fact, it can be said that a miracle occurred. Within a few short weeks of the #prayforpat launch, his lung capacity rose an impossible 14 percent, bringing him to a much more stable 34 percent. “That’s never happened,” Pat says with amazement. “Not that miraculous. It’s gone up two or three percent, but never 14!”
During that time Pat also gained four kilograms – an unheard of achievement when in the past after a visit to hospital he struggled to gain much more than a kilogram.
These improvements in his health not only allow Pat to live more comfortably, but they also open up the possibilities for a lung transplant – something Pat desperately desires, but something that very few people living with CF are eligible to undergo due to the many complications involved with a degenerative lung disease.
“Before the #prayforpat [campaign] the doctors were saying I might be too sick to actually get [a lung transplant],” Pat explains, “[but since then] they assessed me again and said I just might be able to get one.”
For CF sufferers, a lung transplant can offer something that no other treatment can – time. In Pat’s case, doctors believe an additional six years could be added to his life should he be eligible for the procedure. To some, that might not seem like much, but to a young man who was initially told he wouldn’t make it to his thirteenth birthday, six years is the equivalent of a lifetime.
Regardless of the seemingly insurmountable odds against him, Pat remains positive about his future. “I know in myself that I’m destined for greatness,” he says with a quiet confidence. “[God] doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle … I can’t let the devil beat me. If Job [from the Bible] can have everything taken away from him and still be a believer, then this [CF] is nothing compared to that.”
Despite being only 18, it is clear that Pat has a maturity and mentality way beyond his limited years. When asked his philosophy on life, his simple yet profound advice can be summed up in four words: “Live in the moment.” He follows on with the encouragement: “It can always get better,” and finally, “Make with what you’ve got.”
These three powerful and motivational statements have shaped Pat into the young man he is today – a young man who, despite the challenges he faces on a daily basis, is not just a survivor, but an overcomer. His quiet strength, confident faith, and unwavering optimism define not only who he is, but also who he is becoming. For someone as inspirational as Pat Langfield, there can be no doubt that he has an incredible calling on his life and a powerful, God-given destiny awaiting him.
Photos: © Samantha Davison
Written by: Lyn Strudwick