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...with Courage you will dare to take risks, have the Strength to be Compassionate, And the Wisdom to be Humble

Guest post by Courtney Hunter, from her blog No Handbook. Thank you for the kind words and spreading awareness, Courtney!

I remember being nine years-old and having that “new school” experience. I was going from one tiny, conservative private school of a class with a total of six girls, whom I had known since my first day of kindergarten, into a larger community of educators and students. My best friend from my old school transferred with me and, luckily, we were in the same class. However, we were a lonely 2 against the 75 kids that had grown up with each other, just like we had. Plus, there were boys… lots of them… cute ones, too. My friend and I easily integrated into this open community of sports, activities, birthday parties, friend groups, etc. There were 3 classes in the fourth grade, so, my friend and I got to know our class pretty well, but, I still remember having a difficult time familiarizing myself with the students from the two other classes.

There was one little girl in particular whom everyone knew. Sometimes she wore glasses and she was always with her Indian companion. She was a magnetic force—everyone knew she was talented, a strong dancer and gymnast, but, that is not what defined her and drew people to her. It was because she was happy. If you didn’t know her, such as I, you wanted to know her because she had this contagious disposition.

I strongly recall going to the nurse’s office from time to time, and she would be there, every single recess, receiving some sort of treatment. My parents had taught me never to be nosy, most likely whatever was happening was none of my business, so, I never questioned the magnitude of her situation that required her to take pills multiple times per day.

Let us fast forward to four years later. It is eighth grade and my friend and I are now considered “two” of the “seventy seven.” We were no longer fourth grade transplants. We had been designated as honorary “lifers.” I now know this particular little girl with whom I always secretly wanted to be friends. I had even been invited to the same sleepovers she was at. We went to Lakers games together, participated in choir, attended the same birthday parties, I was even a volunteer for her satellite Make-A-Wish club, and other volunteering associations she would need help with. But, I still had never asked why she was sick. Through my innocent eyes, she didn’t act sick. She was never sad or handicapped in any way. If being sick meant that you had a more compassionate heart and a deeper connection to what it means to being alive, then, I guess she was sick, always had been sick, and continues to be sick.

Let us fast forward to now. I met Caleigh Sarah Haber when we were both 9 years old in 1999. I went through grade school, middle school, and high school with her. I watched her bring Wahoo’s in tupperware to school for lunch (I was always curious if it was her heritage to eat only charbroiled chicken and white rice until, one fine afternoon, after volunteering, we ate at Wahoo’s together…then, I finally understood what her favorite meal must have been and why). I watched her laugh, carefree, as one of her best friends, Cassaundra, would pick Caleigh up and put her on Cassaundra’s shoulders, while running around at their mutually favorite place: the beach. I watched her graduate from eighth grade with her best friends, the majority of whom are still close by her side today. I watched her do back flips into seemingly impossible combinations of body contortions to which everyone admired and applauded in awe. I watched her go to prom with her high school boyfriend. And, then, I would notice absences—strings of days looped together without her compact nature to grace the halls of school. I realized that must be what her “sickness” meant. After years of not addressing what it was that made her sick, I, finally, questioned people who were closer to she than I.

She is a walking miracle. The doctors didn’t think she was going to make it past 16…"

The wind had been knocked out of me… a sensation I only have to endure in the moment, not like the illness Caleigh has had to endure a lifetime. Two years later, we would graduate together, again, in 2008. Facebook became was at the height of its social presence as we went off to college and we shared our personal lives via the Internet with everyone in our high school graduating class, our new college friends, and the acquaintances we had made along the way. This little individual would have radiant pictures of her adorning a chef’s hat as she practiced culinary technique at an institute in San Francisco. However, it seemed that pictures of her in a hospital bed became more frequent and long-term than it ever had been before.

Now, at the close of 2013, at age 23, it has gotten to that crucial point of needing a new organ. Caleigh has been living with Cystic Fibrosis, a condition that causes a defective gene to produce a mucus that clogs the lungs and prevents the pancreas from producing natural enzymes that help the body digest and store food, since she was born. It is time for her to have a lung transplant. While most of us twenty-somethings are waiting for a job, and complaining about the long process, or have a job, and are so saturated in work that we forget to take care of our bodies and ourselves, this twenty-something is waiting for a fundamental mechanism that allows us to function normally everyday.

If you can, please donate. Caleigh, I love you very much and have never seen someone battle a destructive disease with such poise and positivity. Without intending to be, you are an inspiration and a joy in each one of our lives. You affect everyone you encounter, in that, you change their perspective on the world. I appreciate all the time that I have gotten to spend with you because you always remind me that there is more to each of us than what you see. I believe in you and am praying for you.

Words have great power. Use them to inspire and support.