For young gymnast and CHOC patient Kieran Cacciatore, life is a balancing act in more ways than one.
Living with cystic fibrosis since age 1, Kieran is an accomplished gymnast who recently competed at a national level and will start middle school this fall.
“I can’t say enough about what it’s been for him and how he’s been able to succeed regardless of his health,” his mother, Robin, says. “What he’s accomplished this year is amazing.”
Kieran has become an expert at balancing his athleticism, school work and treatment. Like his gymnastics practice schedule, Kieran’s daily care routine is arduous: He swallows six capsules before every meal and snack to aid digestion. Twice daily, he has sessions with a nebulizer, which allows him to inhale medication that rehydrates his nasal passages, and a special vest that vibrates against his chest to loosen mucus.
As a baby, Kieran seemed to always be sick, his mother recalled, and frequent doctor visits, tests and medications didn’t help. When Robin discovered one morning that Kieran’s facial muscles had weakened on one side, like he’d suffered a stroke, she immediately rushed him to the hospital.
There, after a series of tests, Kieran was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. The genetic condition leads to frequent lung infections and causes breathing difficulty and digestive system problems.
“We never had health problems, and here we were talking to gastroenterologists, pulmonologists and social workers,” Robin said. “I wanted to get educated and make this disease management a part of our daily life. It wasn’t easy, but we had a very good support system.”
Robin was determined not to let illness isolate Kieran or the family. So, they attended athletic events, enrolled Kieran in school, and began gymnastics training when he was 4.
Already a good climber, Kieran was a natural, the family discovered. Weekly practices soon turned twice weekly, and a after a year, he joined a team.
Now 12, Kieran’s longest practice is a weekly five-hour session – and his hard work has paid off. He recently competed against more than 200 athletes at USA Gymnastics’ 2017 Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships, and progressed to the final rounds.
Kieran’s interest in gymnastics is likely only to grow, his mom says.
“I do think he’s going to stick with it,” Robin says. “It’s as much a part of his life as the treatments are.”
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the pulmonology specialty.