STU student gets active in honour of Heather MacInnis

Becky Ganong on STU campus. (Megan Cooke/AQ)
Becky Ganong on STU campus. (Megan Cooke/AQ)

Heather MacInnis’ battle with cystic fibrosis inspired a St. Thomas University student to strive for a more active lifestyle.

“After I heard her story, she became my hero,” said STU student Becky Ganong. “She inspires me to do so much, even now. If I’m having a bad day I think of her.”

While struggling with the lung disease, MacInnis took religious studies and sociology at STU and found the time to raise awareness. She helped with Shinerama, Great Strides Walk, the Catch a Breath Foundation and the Lung Association.

Sadly, MacInnis passed away in April at the Toronto General Hospital after complications with her second double lung transplant.

“She was a fighter and I didn’t realize it until the funeral how much of a fighter she really was,” Ganong said.

Ganong met MacInnis in her first year on a school trip to Cuba. Ganong knew little about cystic fibrosis, but on that first night of the trip MacInnis explained her condition to her fellow students. Since then, Ganong followed her story over the course of several operations.

Passed genetically, cystic fibrosis is a fatal disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The disease caused MacInnis to suffer through severe breathing problems, lung infections and impeded her digestive system from absorbing nutrients without help from medication.

“From the time that I knew her to any given time, she had anywhere from 10 per cent to 60 per cent lung capacity.”

After the shock of MacInnis’ death, Ganong realized how lucky she was to have healthy pink lungs.

“I can walk up a flight of stairs without losing my breath,” said Ganong. “I don’t want to live any of my life in regret because I didn’t use my lungs.”

Motivated by MacInnis’ example, Ganong began taking full advantage of the fact that she’s been blessed with a healthy body. Right after the funeral, Ganong started running routinely, using her lungs to their full potential in memory of MacInnis. She challenged herself further by joining the STU rugby team.

“I did it in high school and I always wanted to do it, but after Heather’s death I thought that if I don’t do it now, I’ll regret it forever.”

Ganong joined fellow students to celebrate Shine Day, a day STU dedicates to raising fund for cystic fibrosis. Volunteers washed cars and collected donations as part of the Shinerama campaign, raising over $6000 for Cystic Fibrosis Canada.

Still, Ganong isn’t finished.

Next, she plans to get a tattoo bearing the words “Just Breathe” in hope of never forgetting her friend and the blessing that is her own health.

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