Bailey Witham seems like your typical eleven year old.
The freckled fifth grader with big brown eyes is an avid Bruins fan, takes swimming at the , and plays baseball and football. He participates on the student council and gets straight A’s on his report card, and he loves to ride his bike.
But Bailey has a cause that's very close to his heart. And because of it, Bailey Witham is his mother’s hero.
Bailey’s mother, Leeanne Curran, is a Danvers native and former student. She was diagnosed at the age of two with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the lungs. Leanne initially showed no signs of affliction, but when her baby brother was diagnosed with CF at just four months of age, Leeanne was tested also for the disease that runs in families, and got her diagnosis.
According to The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, or CFF, website Cystic fibrosis affects about 30,000 children and adults in the United States, 70,000 worldwide. This inherited, chronic disease affects the lungs and digestive system due to a defective gene and its protein product causing the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and obstructs the pancreas and its absorption of food.
An indomitable spirit, Curran admits she never let CF hold her back from anything. She was involved in everything, from skiing, softball and field hockey, to even joining the boys baseball team. “I did everything they told me not to do," she laughed.
She led a seemingly normal life, in comparison to her younger brother BJ, who after years of being in and out of the hospital, succumbed to the disease at 19. “My brother went into the hospital every year for physical therapy and IV antibiotics, but I wasn’t actually admitted until I was 18,” said 32 year old Curran.
When Leeanne and husband Jeffrey Witham decided to start a family, they had genetic testing done to ensure none of their children would have to suffer with this disease. They were relieved to learn Jeff did not carry the gene for CF, and Bailey was born perfectly healthy.
Now that Bailey is older, he is accustomed to the many hospital visits, treatments the Witham’s refer to as “tune-ups”, and medications associated with chronic disease.
“I had a really healthy pregnancy, but after I had him I started getting sicker, needing oxygen, more. Since he didn’t know me before, this is his normal,” she said.
Perhaps acquiring his feisty spirit from his mother, Bailey approached school principal Matt Fusco late last year about an idea he had for a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Awareness, a Walk-A-Thon that would involve the entire student body at Great Oak.
“We had done a ‘Pennies for Patients’ drive for blood diseases,” explained Fusco. “Bailey saw that and thought: why don’t we raise money for CF?”
Before the walk, Bailey's paternal grandmother Nancy Witham and his mom went to Great Oak when Bailey did a presentation for his classmates about CF.
Leeanne said “At first, I couldn’t believe that my little boy- I know how empathetic he is- but to know he was old enough to come up with this idea and follow it completely through; I couldn’t be prouder. When he got up there and said his speech, he had kids crying-I was so proud of that kid.”
In honor of May as Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month, the Walk-A-Thon to support Cystic Fibrosis Awareness will take place on Friday morning at the Great Oak School. The student body will walk laps around the school proper for donations. Principal Fusco is hoping for a great turnout, and said while the kids are getting excited, the parents are equally behind it.
Bailey, who will take a special spot on the playground to send off the kids complete with a bullhorn, is excited to “get money for the CF foundation. I hope to get at least $100 or much more.”
Today, Leeanne is feeling better than she’s felt in three years due to a new experimental treatment. The new medication treats the underlying cause of the disease, resulting in less lung infection, less hospitalization, and better lung function. Curran’s hope with this new medication is that doctors are closer than ever to finally finding a cure.
“Even if they don’t find it in time for me, for young kids, so they don’t have to be afraid. There are so many aspects to the disease, physical and emotional-just for people to have peace of mind. As they get closer and closer (to a cure) it’s a whole new lease on life," Curran said.
Perhaps for the first time in Bailey’s young life he is hopeful. He said he has leaned on his friends when he’s needed to talk in the past, but with his mom’s health improvement of late, he has a much better outlook.
While he certainly looks forward to the Walk-A-Thon on Friday, he is especially excited for this Mothers Day on Sunday when he can spend time with his family.
“I want to spend a lot of time with my mom and probably make her breakfast in bed,” he said.