Oas family walks on to fight disease

POULSBO — Twelve years and the walk is still strong.

Spurred by their daughter’s affliction with a rare disease, Jim and Val Oas for more than a decade have held an event aimed at raising money to help fund research of “CF,” more commonly known as Cystic Fibrosis.

The 5-mile walk-a-thon the couple puts on each year — spanning the distance between Vinland and Breidablik Elementary Schools — is not limited to walking. Biking, running and even horseback riding are all allowed. Whatever it takes to help fund the research, Jim Oas said.

“We’ve had kids do unicycles the whole way before,” he commented.

CF is a genetic disease that affects about 30,000 people in the U.S. and a cure has yet to be found.

Research is ongoing, thanks largely to numerous fund-raising efforts like the one the Oases put on each year.

The disease is caused by a defective gene which instructs the body to produce “an abnormally thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs” and could lead to fatal lung infections, according to the CF Foundation’s Web site.

Brianna Oas was 3 years old when she was diagnosed with CF. Ongoing lung infections made her doctors aware there was something going on other than just a temporary ailment.

“When Brianna first got it, we didn’t know what it was,” said Val Oas. “Awareness became our main goal.”

Thanks to new treatments, 15-year-old? Brianna has had an easier time dealing with CF in recent years. New FDA-approved medications have helped. But she still struggles, Jim Oas commented.

“What’s crushing is that she goes into these coughing spats but she just sleeps through the night,” Jim Oas said. “It still kind of breaks your heart.”

“As I’ve gotten older it’s not as bad but it still slows me down,” Brianna said. “I do get more tired a lot and have coughing attacks. But I just keep on going every day.”

Brianna recently participated in new research at the University of Washington, one of the leading institutes of CF research in the world. She tried a new type of medicine that attempts to thin the mucus inside the lungs and bring it down to normal levels. If all goes as planned, she could be using the medication as early as next January.

A member of FFA and an ASB representative for the North Kitsap High School sophomore class, Brianna keeps a full plate at school. At a recent FFA public speaking competition, her abilities were obvious to the crowd, Jim Oas said.

“She has become such a fantastic public speaker — she blew them away as a sophomore,” Jim Oas said. “That’s how she fights back from this disease.”

Last year, 150 people participated in the Oas-run family event, raising about $15,000. This year, the goal is the same.

“It’s amazing the drive and the conviction people have to do it,” Brianna said. “People come and they always have a goal. And they always mark goals for themselves for the next year.”

Brianna and NKHS sophomore Laura Lopresto have been distributing flyers at local schools and mailing letters to businesses in the area to help raise awareness of Saturday’s event. Lopresto, a friend of Brianna’s, said she needed an Honor’s Society Project and that the walk was a natural fit.

“Seeing that (Brianna) has it,” Lopresto said, “It really hits close to home.”

One of Brianna’s friends at school and through FFA club, NKHS senior Brandon Borchers also jumped in on the cause.

“I met Brianna through FFA and just decided to help,” Borchers said. “She’s a great person and anything we could do to help, we will.”

Town & Country Markets will be on hand with a van to offer water to the walkers along the way as well as pick up those who might need a break.

Helping bring in money doesn’t just stop at just the race. Other forms of fund-raising have been used to bring more dollars for research of CF.

NKHS sophomore Marcus King recently held a garage sale, raising almost $100 — all before the event has even occurred.

“One of my best friends has Cystic Fibrosis,” King said. “I would like to see a cure found.”

And a cure could be found at any time thanks to support, Jim Oas said.

“(CF research) is in a bottleneck,” he commented. “The more you study it the more you narrow it down.”

The Oas family will be right there for the entire event Saturday and Brianna will be riding her horse, Cover Girl. As with her horseback riding, Brianna does everything with a passion for life, always with a positive attitude.

“She has challenges that she deals with,” Jim said. “But never once has she complained.”

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