Michelle Herpolsheimer is an unlikely runner.
She routinely runs more than 100 miles a month, a goal she’s attained for more than two years.
In 2012, she ran half-marathons in San Francisco and Las Vegas, as well as two in Wichita. She now is training for her first full marathon April 27 in Nashville.
Although these would be major accomplishments for anyone, they are even more impressive when you consider Michelle is living with the debilitating lung disease, cystic fibrosis.
CF is an inherited chronic disease that affects about 30,000 children and adults in the United States. It causes the body to produce an unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and sometimes blocks the pancreas, stopping the flow of enzymes that help the digestive tract break down and absorb food.
Michelle was adopted at birth. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 3 months, after her mother kissed her and noticed her skin tasted salty — one of the tell-tale signs of the disease.
As a child, Michelle also dealt with digestive issues and at 17 she was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder marked by an intolerance to gluten in wheat and other grain products.
As she became an adult, she began to experience more lung issues and began to realize how important it would be to keep her lungs healthy. She decided she needed to exercise more and began running in November 2010. She started with walking and lightly jogging to build up her endurance. Her first goal was to train for a 5K, and she ran in the Susan B. Komen Race For the Cure in September 2011.
“Michelle’s level of dedication shows she takes her health very seriously,” says Janel Harting, MD, a pulmonologist who sees Michelle in the Via Christi Cystic Fibrosis Clinic in Wichita. “When you’re growing up, you just want to be like everybody else. It takes somebody special to see the future when she’s just 16, and to work that hard to manage her health.”
Every three months, Michelle visits the CF Clinic, one of several specialty clinics Via Christi offers in Wichita. During her appointments, a coordinated team including physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, a dietitian, a social worker and a psychologist help Michelle manage her condition.
“It’s a wonderful service for people living with cystic fibrosis,” Michelle says. “Everybody is in one place so they can address all your needs at one time during your appointment.”
Despite all she’s gone through, Michelle continues to have a positive outlook on life.
“I’ve accepted I have cystic fibrosis and have never let it dictate my life,” she says. “Whatever you’ve been dealt, you still have to live your life.”