A sophomore at York High, a small high school of about 700 students located three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and a 10-minute drive from the border of live-free-or-die New Hampshire, Kate plays soccer and lacrosse for the Wildcats and competes year-round for her club soccer team. This fall, she earned a starting position at center midfielder for York’s varsity squad after playing jayvee last year and was selected by coach Walter Caldwell for the team’s Most Improved award, based on a laundry list of qualities including, what he called, her “consistency, grit and humility.”
Kate has a 3.30 grade point average, works a summer job at a beachside snack bar, coaches youth soccer in the fall, has a boyfriend on the football team, follows Beyoncé on Instagram, and is learning to drive. (Have her tell you the proper way to hit a moose that steps into the path of your car, required knowledge to pass the driver’s test in Maine).
“Every day technology is improving and it’s giving you such a longer life,” says Kate. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of eight months in the winter of 2000. “It’s so much different than it was 20 years ago,” she says. “I’m so lucky to be born in the time period that I am.”
In the end, what makes Kate Marshall different from any other typical teenager is not the single gene that causes her disease, but how she has handled that disease.
“I’m almost thankful for CF sometimes because of what I’ve learned having it,” Kate says. “Not necessarily physically, but mentally it’s taught me so much. It has taught me to be independent, to stay positive all the time, and just always keep your eye on the prize. You can’t experience happiness without sadness and it’s so important to experience both, I think.”
Cystic fibrosis is a chronic genetic illness that, if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on the lungs and digestive system. In the 1950’s, children with CF were not expected to live long enough to attend elementary school. But today, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, approximately half of the estimated 30,000 people with CF in the United States are 18 or older, and the median predicted age of survival is rising steadily. Since 2002, that median age has increased by nearly a decade: from 31.3 years in 2002 to 41.1 in 2012.
That’s the year a drug called Kalydeco was approved for use in four percent of the CF population. And this fall, the wheels were set in motion for the approval a new cystic fibrosis drug—one that affects a much wider swath of the population—including Kate Marshall.