‘Catching Air’

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After overcoming her own physical problems, Ava Peterson is leaping to help her friend battle cystic fibrosis

Ava Peterson, a sixth-grader at Noblesville Intermediate School, enjoys dance more than anything else, and she’s been doing it since she was 3 years old.

“I have always leaped (ballet) everywhere,” Ava said.

The fact Ava is leaping is no small feat.

She was born with a number of birth defects including her heart, which required her to undergo open-heart surgery twice. Ava also had a malformed spine which required six of her vertebrae to be fused with a rod when she was 7 years old.

“I think she’s here because of the people who were around us, supporting us,” said Ava’s mother, Kirsten Peterson. “It’s cool to see her dancing and leaping when we were all worried about her survival.”

The leaping phenomenon really took off in New York City in November. While visiting Grand Central Station, Ava told her mother she wanted to get her photo taken dancing or leaping in the famous tourist stop. Afterward, Kirsten uploaded the photo on her Facebook page.

“We had comments immediately,” Ava said.

Kirsten then photographed Ava leaping over a puddle along White River. Again the photo was uploaded on Facebook and received many comments. After Kirsten posted a couple photos of Ava leaping in different locations on Facebook, they came up with the idea to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“If people like this, we could put it to good use,” Ava said of creating her “Catching Air” Facebook community page.

What is cystic fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the U.S. A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections; and obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.

In the 1950s, few children with CF lived to attend elementary school. Today, advances in research and medical treatments have further enhanced and extended life for children and adults with CF. Many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.

About 1,000 new cases of CF are diagnosed each year. More than 70 percent of patients are diagnosed by age 2 and more than 45 percent of the CF patient population is age 18 or older. The predicted median age of survival for a person with CF is in the late 30s.

*Information provided by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Ava’s friend Fritz Mills, a student at Noblesville Middle School, suffers from the disease. The two have been friends for many years – “I’ve known him forever,” says Ava. Both of their mothers became friends when a mutual friend connected them to talk about gastric feeding tubes. The Mills were considering one for Fritz at the time, and Ava was in her fifth year of using one because she aspirated when swallowing.

Knowing Mills endures hours of therapy and takes more than 60 pills each day, Ava is hoping her Facebook page increases awareness of CF and will raise money to continue the needed research to find a cure.

“The main reason I’m doing this is to let people know there is a need to find a cure for this disease. Not just for Fritz, but everyone with CF,” said Ava. “I want to be able to make a difference in their lives and use something I’m good at.”

Ava Peterson and Fritz Mills

Ava’s “Catching Air” Facebook page has more than 150 followers from seven different countries and five continents. While a long-term project, there is a push to raise funds in advance of the annual Great Strides Walk held every year around the nation. Ava, who has participated in the past six CF walks, has joined Fritz’s team again this year – Fritz’s Fantastic Friends –and will be walking in the Noblesville event on May 19 at Dillon Park.

“I know Fritz has to deal with all those things,” she said. “I was strong and he’s being strong every single day.”

“I love watching him (Fritz) be a celebrity,” Kirsten added of the Great Strides Walk.

The leap locations are varied, from nature scenes to businesses. To encourage businesses to donate, Ava is offering them something in return – citing each photo’s sponsor with a direct link to the business. Individuals and companies have been sponsoring Ava steadily; she has a list of six leaps including Lucas Oil Stadium.

“After the walk, I’m definitely going to keep going,” she said. “I’ll have a whole other year to raise money.”

Ava has raised more than $800 for Great Strides this year. Her goal is to reach $1,500.

“I want to raise as much as possible. Once I get to $1,500, I’m definitely not stopping,” she said. “Last year’s walk wasn’t as big as I think it should be. CF is not a common disease. No one’s really raising money for it … I want people to know about it and know about the walk. I want to get the word out.”

How to help

Want to sponsor a leap on Ava Peterson’s “Catching Air” Facebook page? Click here or e-mail Peterson at catchingair65@yahoo.com. To contribute to Peterson’s Cystic Fibrosis Great Strides Walk fundraising drive, click here.

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