Sunday, July 09, 2000

CF patient dreams of being doctor

Kevin Bauereis, with his cousin Zachary Kyle, wears a vibrating vest to break up fluid in his lungs and inhales antibiotics.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        PETERSBURG, Ky. — Kevin Bauereis wants to be a doctor. His own body is a laboratory for treatments.

        At 17, he has a tube in his stomach and another in an artery leading to his heart. A scar runs from the bottom of his sternum to his belly button — the result of surgery to wrap his upper stomach around his esophagus.

        Twice a day, he puts on a vibrating vest to break up fluids that threaten his breath. He takes steroids, antibiotics and enzymes. He is 5 foot 1 and weighs 85 pounds.

        Kevin has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder in which glands become clogged with fibers and fluids. This leads to respiratory infections and digestive problems.

        Today he has the raspy cough that is a frequent companion. But he's also looking forward to this summer's big event: a national forum in Boston for 700 aspiring medical students.

        At Conner High School, biology teacher Dawn Hinton tapped Kevin to attend, because of his high grades and passion for science.

        “He is all over a terrific person,” Mrs. Hinton says. “He's very kind, and he's very dedicated.”

        Kevin already has earned college credit through advanced-placement classes. When he must be hospitalized during school, he does homework from his bed.

        At the weeklong forum, Kevin will shadow doctors, visit Harvard Medical School and others, study public health issues and learn about ethical dilemmas.

        The trip represents his first vacation alone. First airplane ride. First time he has really needed a suit and tie.

        It also may be the closest he comes to working in medicine, he says.

        Cystic fibrosis is usually fatal, and Kevin isn't sure whether he will have time to finish a residency.

        He shares this as he drinks a vanilla shake before heading to work at Office Max in Florence. He is calm and clear-eyed.

        “I don't let it worry me,” Kevin says. “I'll go when my time comes.”

        The worst part of cystic fibrosis is its effect on his size, he says. People do a double take when they see him driving. At work, customers will say, “What happened to child labor laws?” or, “Maybe my 13-year-old could get a job here.”

        “If they're rude, I'm not rude back,” Kevin says. “I know they don't understand.”

        He sees a positive side to his illness.

        Since his symptoms began in the sixth grade, he has participated in about 10 national studies to evaluate new treatments for cystic fibrosis. He has gone on special diets and taken experimental drugs. One study lasted two years.

        “I think maybe I have it to help other people out,” Kevin says.

        He lives in Petersburg with three younger siblings and his mother and stepfather, Renee and Clay Newman. An older brother has a less severe type of cystic fibrosis. The disorder was inherited from their parents, who carry the genes but do not have the illness.

        Being a science junkie, Kevin takes a keen interest in his own surgeries. He wishes someone had videotaped them.

        E.R. is his favorite television show, because of all the interest ing ailments it features. From the show, he gathers that doctors “talk about the weirdest things” during surgery. He wonders what they have said during his.

        He has an insider's view of doctor-patient relations.

        He has waited three hours for tests that should have taken less than one, with no explanation for the delay. He has heard his share of platitudes — “I understand what you're going through” — from people who didn't.

        He once stopped taking his medicine, thinking it was doing no good. He landed in the hospital and learned a lesson.

        All this he would share with his patients. He would say: I know what it's like to be here. I know why you should keep taking your pills.

        I am a doctor, and I really do understand.

        Karen Samples can be reached at (859) 578-5584 or


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