Defying the Odds

Soon after Dean Cruikshank was born in 1963, he was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), the most common fatal genetic disease that affects the digestive system and lungs. According to statistics at the time, he was unlikely to live to his third birthday.

Fast-forward 54 years and Dean is still defying the odds. Next year, he’ll celebrate his 55th birthday and 20th wedding anniversary with his wife, Leila. Dean credits his longevity to three factors: his healthy lifestyle, the loving support of his family, particularly Leila, who “cajoles him into taking his meds” and “has never missed a clinic visit” and the Toronto Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre at St. Michael’s.

St. Michael’s is home to the largest CF program in North America, providing multi-disciplinary ambulatory and inpatient care to over 450 adults living with CF. “The staff is top notch for medical care,” says Dean of the Centre. “I’m sure they’ve added a few years to my life.”

Dean’s active lifestyle has also contributed to his longevity. Individuals with CF can benefit from physical activity as it slows the rate of decline in lung function, helping to clear mucus from the lungs, making it easier to breathe. An avid runner, Dean tries to run four times a week but incorporates weight training and other activities into his routine too. He encourages others living with the disease to use exercise to help manage symptoms.

Dean is grateful to his family for their support; of his nine siblings, he and five others were diagnosed with CF as children. Like him, they also defied the odds, living longer than expected. Sadly, two of Dean’s siblings have already lost their lives to this terrible disease.

Dean and Leila couldn’t sit idle and wait for a cure that might not come in time for them. They joined a patient advisory board of St. Michael’s Adult CF Clinic and from that day on, they were part of a community of people living with CF, some diagnosed themselves and many other close family members deeply affected by the disease. These families shared the same goal, finding a cure for CF. Belonging to that community inspired Dean and Leila even more to do something to make a difference.

From this inspiration, Dean and Leila started Second Wind for Cystic Fibrosis, a fundraising campaign that saw them cycle across Canada in 2003 to raise awareness and money for research to find a cure for CF. All in all, they collected close to $8,000 in pledges to support CF research and patient care in Canada.

“While I don’t have cystic fibrosis, I certainly live with it every day,” says Leila. “The challenges of being married to someone with CF are many—infertility, disease progression, inability to qualify for life and medical insurance, financial pressures, incorporating treatments into daily schedules, taking time off for clinic visits, appointments with specialists, [and so on].”

Despite these challenges, the couple maintains a great appreciation for the little things in life and is thankful that Dean has not had to undergo a lung transplant so far. Leila says, “We credit our faith in God for helping us through the rough patches. We have been truly blessed.”

Although CF remains incurable, St. Michael’s is accelerating research into this debilitating disease. Through its Cystic Fibrosis Canada Chair in Adult Cystic Fibrosis Research—the first of its kind in Canada—currently held by Dr. Elizabeth Tullis, a respirologist, clinical researcher and director of the hospital’s Adult CF Centre, St. Michael’s is leading revolutionary research projects and making advances in treatments that hope to improve life expectancy and quality of life for CF patients, like Dean.

To support the Adult CF Clinic at St. Michael's, contact the Foundation at 416.864.5000 or give online.