Sam recently bought the house with her husband, Christian. The place is all wood and brick and new paint — just a few tree-lined blocks from Libby and her husband, Will Seamans. Sam and Christian plan to put in a sprinkler system soon, maybe plant a garden out back. “It’s wonderful for us,” Sam singsongs. “We want this to be our special place.”
The two met while they were both undergraduates at the University of Colorado. Sam’s now a practicing clinical psychologist at Denver Health Medical Center. Christian is an attorney. “It’s pretty much an everyday kind of life,” says Christian, who learned about Sam’s condition when they were teenagers heading for a weekend ski trip. “With CF, you come to accept the things you can control. The rest, you try to make as special as possible.”
Sam and Libby’s story is well worn by now. It’s 1983 in Colorado Springs, and 18-month-old Samantha isn’t gaining weight, despite a voracious appetite. Her parents, Debi and Steve Pelican, take their girl to the pediatrician. Again. And again. Finally, there’s a test and a phone call. You need to come in.
“It felt like a death sentence,” Debi Pelican says of the moment when she got the news. The statistics were disheartening; the average life expectancy was in the mid-20s at best. There wasn’t a cure. “You go from thinking about watching your kid grow old to wondering if she’s going to go to school or ride a bike,” Debi says now. “It was devastating because we already knew how difficult this would be.”
That’s because the Pelicans lived next door to Kathleen and Mike Beatty. Their 15-month-old daughter, Piper, had been diagnosed with CF as a newborn in late 1981. From her suburban home in the Springs, Debi had watched Kathleen load Piper into the car. She often wondered what it would be like to know you’d outlive your own child. “In an instant, I knew,” Debi says. “It defied logic that we’d have two kids on the same street who had this.”
Mike and Kathleen had Piper on a special program — lots of medication, a diet of heavy foods, enzymes tucked into applesauce. Twice a day they’d beat on Piper’s back to loosen mucus. Watching the ?Beattys’ regimen had been inspiring to Debi and her husband. Piper’s parents had gotten the same defeating diagnosis they had, but they kept fighting.
So, too, would the Pelicans. And a year after they’d gotten the news about Sam, Debi told her husband she wanted another child. “He thought I was crazy,” Debi says. But with all the pills and in-home care, Sam had thrived. They’d fit the disease into their lives, and they’d come out better for it. Sam could travel; school was in her future. Plus — even though Debi and Steve both carried a CF gene — there was only a one-in-four chance they’d produce another child with cystic fibrosis. Debi thought the odds were in their favor. By 1984, along came Libby. Six days after her birth, another diagnosis.