Still walking after 14 years

POULSBO — Brianna Oas, Brittany Girard and Amanda Dixon could easily be mistaken for the female version of the Three Amigos as they do all the things teen-aged girls enjoy with high school graduation fast approaching.

However, beneath the facade of smiling faces and carefree attitudes lurks a silent threat for one of them: cystic fibrosis.

The genetic disease, which affects approximately 30,000 children and adults in the United States, causes the body to produce an abnormally thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections.

That disease is the reason Oas and her family have organized the Great Strides walkathon to benefit CF research for the last 14 years.

This year’s event is scheduled for May 6 at Vinland Elementary School in Poulsbo with registration at 9 a.m. and the walk starting at 10 a.m.

Oas’ battle against the disease began when she was diagnosed at the age of 3, but it hasn’t stopped her from enjoying a normal life.

“I didn’t really know what the disease did, I just knew I was sick,” Oas said. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s definitely a part of me and I want to help research and spread the word about the disease.”

In the final stretch of her senior year at North Kitsap High School, Oas remains active in numerous school activities, has a part-time job and is on her way to Washington State University in the fall.

“I always push myself and I’m a go-getter,” she explained. “I never let my CF stop me.”

The disease has slowed her down from time with her last hospital visit in November, but it hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams.

“I want to be a horse dentist and I want to get my veterinary degree first,” she said.

To that end, Oas spends about 25 hours a week working at the Poulsbo Marina Veterinary Clinic in addition to her duties as the North Kitsap FFA chapter president.

Change on the horizon

With graduation on the horizon, Oas said the year is flying by and that she and her friends are spending as much time together as possible before she ventures across the mountains in the fall.

“We’re trying to go to every school activity and a lot of my friends are going away in the fall,” she said.

Throughout her childhood, her friends like Girard and Dixon have been there to remind her to slow down or take her medicine and do all the things her parents do when she’s at home, she said.

“They won’t be there, but there’s a CF center in Spokane if I have any problems and I’ll be able to see my doctors whenever I come home,” Oas said.

Girard, a long-time childhood friend, said the trio has never let CF get them down, even with the periodic hospital stays in Seattle.

When Oas has been in Seattle, Girard said she’s always been able to visit her, but that won’t be the same once Oas heads to Pullman in the fall.

“It’s going to be hard, because we won’t get to see each other all the time,” Girard said. “We can call, but it’s still not face-to-face.”

One last walk

This year’s walkathon is the last one the trio will enjoy before going their separate ways after graduation.

Oas’ team Bri’s Believers is hoping to raise $15,000 this year to support CF research.

“It’s hard to get people to donate, so we’re having to be creative,” Oas said, noting that the group recently had a car wash at the Poulsbo Texaco station.

A first for this year’s event is the upcoming hot dog sale at the Kingston Albertsons, which is slated for April 15, she said.

“All of us are out raising money and the team is really pumped up this year,” she said.

The event changes every year in an effort to make it fun and enjoyable for everyone participating, Oas said.

“Last year, we rode on a lawn mover the whole way and we’ve ridden our horses before,” Girard recalled.

A father’s hope

For Brianna’s father, Jim Oas, the hope is not to necessarily find a cure for CF, but to find a way to stabilize it.

The event’s past successes are also a poignant reminder of the community’s support in the battle against this deadly disease, he said.

“This wouldn’t happen in a big city, but in small community like Poulsbo, the support has been incredible,” he said.

The first event went through downtown and to the north end of town, but it now features a relaxing route between Vinland and Breidilbik elementary schools.

Even though the disease has had its share of negative impacts, Jim Oas said it has had a positive impact as well.

“I think it’s given Bri a prospective on what’s important in life and given her something she can participate in,” he said.

Through her efforts to find a cure, Brianna Oas has appeared with celebrities, including country singer Vince Gill and WHAT? & CQ NAME Kathy Rigby, and was featured in a 1993 Time Magazine article as well, he said.

However, as she prepares to head across the mountains in fall, Jim Oas admitted that he and his wife have some apprehension.

“We’re not going to be able to watch her and remind her to take her medicine,” he said. “But we know whatever happens, she is at peace because of her relationship with Christ.”

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