Fitness To Combat Cystic Fibrosis


Let’s talk about situations you may think are impossible. Did you know it is possible to have a double lung transplant? Did you know it is possible to run a 5K six months after having a double lung transplant? Did you know it is possible to run twenty-five 5K races and four 1/2 marathons before even reaching three years after a double lung transplant? Well, meet Tammy Bolerjack. She is the strong woman who proved these situations to be possible.

Tammy was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at the age of 18. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website,

“CF is a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system.”

The overview on the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website also mentions that more than 75% of the people with CF are diagnosed by the age of 2. This makes Tammy’s case a little interesting as she was not diagnosed until the end of her teenage years. Tammy chose to keep her diagnosis to herself and her close ones. In the beginning, for Tammy, it was not worth telling people as there did not seem much to be concerned with. However, around 2010 Tammy got really sick.

Tammy was now 34, on oxygen at home, and fighting to stay out of the hospital and live at home normally. This was just not possible and one day she had to call 911 for the emergency services to get her out of bed and rush her to the hospital. The 911 call was needed because she could not keep up with her clogged lungs, and Tammy was drowning in her own lung fluid.

At the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, Tammy would have the most important two weeks of her life. With her husband, Robert, at her side, doctors gave warning there was a sense of urgency for Tammy to have a transplant. The doctors stated she will only live on the ventilation for about 14 days in the condition she was in at that time. On the 12th day of ventilation, the doctors at the Mayo Clinic miraculously found a deceased donor match in another state for Tammy’s blood type, tissue type, and size.

After a successful double lung transplant, Tammy took the “mandatory” one hour of cardiovascular training to a whole new level.   In fact, six months after the transplant she ran her first 5K. She followed this up with a total of twelve 5K races in her first year post transplant. Tammy is even now a member at a local Muay Thai training center, where she enjoys the cardio and strength training aspects. Everywhere she goes, Tammy is an inspiration. During training sessions at the Muay Thai facility her friends are amazed at the shape she is in, and when she is at the Mayo clinic her support team of medical professionals are also impressed with how well she acclimated to post-transplant life. Her story resonates with hope and breathes life into those at the clinic who are on the lung transplant waiting list or people who are recent recipients of donor lungs.
Although Tammy was very modest about her mental and physical toughness to fight through her disease when speaking to Fit in Online, we noted a few things she deals with that healthy people may take for granted. The double lung transplant requires her to be on rejection medications so her body does not reject the foreign lungs, but the medications also are responsible for dropping her immune system much lower than the average person. This means for the rest of her life, Tammy has to be extra careful not to get sick from the people she is around, and quite often requires her to wear a mask when in public places, such as the mall or other large gatherings of people. If that wasn’t enough of an obstacle to overcome, the rejection medications also make her sensitive to sunlight and more at risk for cancer. Tammy also mentioned that her kidneys are affected by the rejection medications. She has to consistently drink water, replace electrolytes and sodium that she loses during workouts. With Cystic Fibrosis, Tammy sweats more salt out than normal and has to be aware of replacing it.

Fit in Online would like to thank Tammy and her family for sharing their story to help inspire others. We all have our own legitimate excuses why fitness is a struggle each day and they range from big excuses to small excuses. Don’t let them get to you… Tammy doesn’t!

About James Langan

In 2014, I created the Fit in Daytona Magazine as the writer, photographer, interviewer, and digital designer. After it's local explosion in popularity, the magazine grew & evolved into an online fitness publication. - Founder of Fit in Online, host of the Fit in Online Fitness Documentary.

1 Comment

  1. Debbie Stanley

    October 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

    You are a very strong young woman and I thought that when I saw u at the gym . God loves strong willed and strong minded people. Keep up the good work fighter. God bless u. ❤️

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