Stepping up against Cystic Fibrosis

From left, Brianna Strand, her parents Jim and Valerie Oas, and her niece Rylee at this year’s Great Strides Walkathon for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The Oases founded the fundraiser when Strand was diagnosed with CF at age 3.           - Oas family / Contributed
From left, Brianna Strand, her parents Jim and Valerie Oas, and her niece Rylee at this year’s Great Strides Walkathon for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The Oases founded the fundraiser when Strand was diagnosed with CF at age 3.
— image credit: Oas family / Contributed

POULSBO — For 20 years, Poulsbo’s Great Strides Walkathon has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to combat cystic fibrosis. Now, the girl for whom the walkathon began is making it her own.

Brianna Strand was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 3, and has grown up with the walkathon as a part of her life. Her parents, James and Valerie Oas, founded it shortly after Strand was diagnosed.

“When [Brianna] was first diagnosed, we didn’t know what we wanted to do, but we knew we wanted to raise money for this and raise awareness,” James Oas said. When the walkathon was founded, there wasn’t Internet or Facebook; he got the word out through word of mouth and by stuffing mailboxes in his neighborhood.

Yet, through the years, the number of participates has remained steady at about 125 walkers every year.

Cystic fibrosis is a lung disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and pancreas. Treatment includes antibiotics, inhalers and chest percussion to break up the mucus. More than 30,000 Americans have the disease.

The Oases donate the proceeds of the Great Strides Walkathon to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which in turn donates 90 cents of every dollar directly to research, Strand said. Another big part of the walk is the awareness is raises, she said.

“It’s a town tradition too,” she said. “People look forward to it every year.”

Strand was in Bellingham for the last four years, studying zoology and animal science, and is applying to vet school. She married Nick Strand in July 2011, and the two decided to move back to Poulsbo and give the walkathon some fresh energy.

“I know, for my parents when they started it, it was kind of a way for them to channel their energy … to feel like they were making a difference,” Strand said.

This year’s walk — June 16, from Vinland Elementary to Breidablik Elementary — raised $10,500. Strand said the amount raised varies from year to year, but one year the event raised $38,000. Sponsors this year were Hill Moving, Red Apple, Sluys Bakery, Ogilvie Construction, Hot Shots Mobile Music and Harrison Medical Center.

Strand has not only been a figure for CF, she got her high school classmates involved and wants to continue that student involvement. Next year’s walk will be moved to May so local schools can get involved before ending for the year.

“We’ve been talking about new things … [but] everything my parents have been doing is great. You know, if it’s not broke don’t fix it,” she said.

Strand said she has happy memories of the walk growing up, getting to see friends who were also CF patients — although, she said, doctors would often discourage them from getting too close to avoid spreading germs.

“It was one of those really exciting things I always looked forward to, no matter what I was going through with CF or what my friends with CF were going through,” she said.

Breakthroughs in treatments in the last 20 years have doubled the life expectancy of CF patients. When Strand was first diagnosed, the average patient lived to 15. Now, Strand is 24, and doctors say the life expectancy is 37 “and increasing every year,” Strand said.

“The drugs they have coming out now are targeting specific mutations in cells. That’s unbelievable [that] in 20 years we’ve been able to come that far.

“It’s in the back of your head. Those are stats and facts that [doctors] have. But you can’t live your life like that because we're all dying. I don’t live my life based on [statistics], I live every day to the fullest ... I didn’t let CF run my life [in childhood]. It was a part of my life, but it didn't run my life.”

Oas said he’s glad Strand has taken this “heritage” on and directing the walkathon.

“I think whenever your family gets touched by something huge like a life-threatening disease, it’s usually a family disease, not just individual,” Oas said. But after 20 years, “you might get tired, but the disease doesn’t go away.” Of the walkathon, he said, “Our hearts are still in it.”

Strand said one of her life goals is to continue to help other CF patients and spread awareness to those that can support research.

“I’m so thankful to be healthy enough to do that,” she said.

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