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Pleasanton native awaiting lung transplant meets Taylor Swift

Foothill grad says best part was helping children with her disease

The petite blonde woman took a deep breath -- which was difficult because her lungs were failing a little more every day.

She checked her lacy top to make sure it covered her medically inserted port but showed her midriff just so. The oxygen tube that reached across her face couldn't be helped, but she made sure her lipstick looked right and checked for any stray hairs.

Tiffany Rich was about to meet her idol.

A second later, international music superstar Taylor Swift walked through a curtain and hugged the shaking woman, telling her how brave she is and how much she has inspired her.

Rich, a 26-year-old Pleasanton native with cystic fibrosis, had spent sleepless nights in hospital beds and long days on bed-rest listening to Swift's calming voice so this moment was huge for her.

Since childhood, Rich has taken charge of her own treatment by memorizing what 30 pills she takes daily, being her own advocate, and scheduling about six breathing treatments each day in between classes and time with friends.

She and her family also had taken the next steps -- secured a place for her on the lung transplant list, kept an eye out for infections and kept up with even more medications -- and she's been told to be patient and to take it easy until she receives her new lungs.

But Rich wanted to experience more than the inside of a hospital room. She had goals, and spending her time just waiting around wasn't her style. So she made a bucket list.

No. 1: Meet Taylor Swift.

Should I ask for such a fun and exciting honor? she wondered. There had been many times she'd had to speak up for what she needed. Should she speak up for something she may not need but really wanted?

After some brainstorming, she and friend Kelsey Sleek, of Pleasanton, sent out a photo on social media with a simple request: "Help Rich meet Swift." Within hours, the cause had been taken up by YouTube stars, a small army of Twitter users and Bay Area news reporters.

So just before an Aug. 15 concert at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Rich got to hug it out with Swift.

"I was in tears," Rich said.

But she isn't stopping there. Swift was the first goal. On to No. 2: Graduation.

Completing her senior year at St. Mary's College and walking the stage two days after her birthday next May would be the best present she could ask for, said Rich, who graduated from Foothill High.

Plus she's aiming to ride an elephant, zip-line through the jungle, go to the Super Bowl, and travel to Fiji and stay in a hut. And she wants to be able to snowboard and wakeboard again.

Also on the list? Run a mile. It'll have to wait, but Rich said she's looking forward to it.

"Just to be able to take that breath," she said.

Rich, who now lives in Brentwood, has been on the list for a double lung transplant at Stanford Health Care for a year and a half. Her lungs process about 24% of the air healthy lungs can handle, and she goes into the hospital often to fight infections.

Becoming an Internet celebrity for a few days had its perks, but she said the best part for her was to be able to spread awareness of the disease. She said the biggest benefit was being able to talk with others who have cystic fibrosis and to encourage them, especially children.

"I've been in their shoes, and it's someone that they can look up to, to know they're going to get through it," she said.

Rich said she plans to stay connected with the cystic fibrosis patients who reached out, and she's going to continue to use her short window of fame to shine a light on the disease.

Parents of young patients have told her: "You're showing us that we're going to be OK. You're giving us hope for our children."

Putting that public, albeit brief, spotlight on cystic fibrosis was even more important to her than sharing hugs with her celebrity idol Taylor Swift.

About the disease

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that causes thick mucus to form in certain organs, which leads to persistent lung infections, stops nutrients from being absorbed through the pancreas and causes other difficulties. About 30,000 people in the U.S. have cystic fibrosis, and about 1,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

There is no cure, but management options have progressed in the past decades. People with the disease often seek relief through a lung transplant once their lungs no longer function at healthy levels.

While some organs can be transplanted from living donors, like kidney transplants, lung transplants are mostly done via a deceased donor. You can sign up to be an organ donor at your local DMV.

For more information on the disease, visit www.cff.org. To follow Rich's story, check out her YouTube channel.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by CC
a resident of Castlewood
on Sep 21, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Tiffany, Kelsey & Taylor you're all so very beautiful and you make the world proud! Don't ever stop believing or fighting!

PS-Kanye is a punk!


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