Cystic fibrosis drug changes woman's life, revives Broadway dreams

Cystic fibrosis drug changes woman's life, revives Broadway dreams
Lindsay Shipp, shown here with husband Charles Shipp, has cystic fibrosis, a disease with a life expectancy of 37. After taking a new drug, ivacaftor, her lung function improved dramatically. (Priscilla Gragg)

Lindsay Shipp just wanted to keep her lungs.

When she was nine months old, Shipp was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis -- a genetic disease that, among other symptoms, causes thick mucus to form in the lungs. The life expectancy is 37, and most people who die from it succumb to a lung infection.

"I know it's kind of a morbid thought," she said, "but I was like, 'Alright, these are my singing lungs, these are my dancing lungs -- I want to keep them.'

As a child, Shipp dreamed of going to Broadway. In high school, she starred as Sandy in "Grease" and Rosie in "Bye Bye Birdie." She danced in college and sang in the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus after moving to San Diego.

But she gave up dancing as her lungs began to fail, and left the chorus after a particularly bad flare-up landed her in the hospital.

"That turn of events kind of made me resigned -- like, this is my fate and I kind of accept it," Shipp, now 27, said. 

But after taking a new drug, ivacaftor, as part of a clinical trial, Shipp's lungs began to clear. They're now on approximately the same level with those of a healthy person. Findings on ivacaftor were published in Thursday's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. The drug currently helps just a small fraction of cystic fibrosis sufferers, but could be more broadly applied as other drugs are developed.

"This is the first time we've developed a therapy that's directed at the cause of the disease," said study co-author Michael Konstan, a pediatric pulmonologist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.   

Meanwhile, the petite brunet with the big voice is thinking of reviving her Broadway dreams.

"Her parents and our family prayed long and hard for her recovery," her father-in-law, George Shipp, wrote in an email. "St. Jude is the patron saint not only of things almost despaired of, but of actors as well. Broadway may be a reality."

Read Thursday's story here

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