Life filled with love

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 11, 2004

MILLENNIUM – At birth, no one gave Katherine Lassiter much of a chance of survival.

Katherine didn’t know it at that precise time, but she was born with Cystic Fibrosis – a genetic disorder that affects the respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems. In 1925, those afflicted with what later was defined as CF had a life expectancy of less than 25 years. Most never reached adulthood.

At 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004, Katherine Lassiter Shores finally surrendered to CF. At long last, she proved that the doctors were correct – that she would die because of complications of this disorder. The only thing is that it took 79 years for the prognosis to come true. Prior to her death, she was the oldest confirmed CF patient in the entire United States.

&uot;My mama was a fighter,&uot; said son Donald &uot;Donnie&uot; Shores. &uot;She fought to have me, she fought through all the suffering to keep a job and she fought right down to the very end.&uot;

Despite not knowing exactly what she was suffering with, Shores said the doctors warned his mother about becoming pregnant.

&uot;She was about five months into her pregnancy with me and they were urging her to abort,&uot; recalled the son, now age 59. &uot;But she refused. She put her life on the line for me. After I was born, mama came down with pneumonia and nearly died, but once again she fought back.&uot;

&uot;She was sick, mighty sick, but she seemed to never slow down until there near the end,&uot; said Irvin Shores, her husband of over 60 years. &uot;She seemed to cough all the time, but she continued to work and to take care of things here at the house. She worked right up ’til the doctors told her to quit.&uot;

It wasn’t until Mrs. Shores reached age 55 that she was officially diagnosed as a CF patient.

&uot;She was being treated as an asthma patient,&uot; said Donnie Shores. &uot;She had said all along that it felt like she was breathing through a straw.&uot;

After several tests performed at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, it was finally determined she had CF.

&uot;Even then the doctors doubted that prognosis,&uot; Donnie remembered. &uot;They didn’t believe it due to her age. No one with CF lives to be 55 years old. So they did some more testing and, sure enough, she had CF.

Her husband said CF was common in her family.

&uot;They didn’t know what caused them to die so young, but Katherine had a younger brother and sister that died when they were babies,&uot; said Mr. Shores. &uot;Now we think it was due to CF. She had another sister that also had CF. She lived to be 62.&uot;

Nine months into her life, Katherine Lassiter nearly died.

&uot;She was so sick and so weak that she couldn’t eat,&uot; said Mr. Shores. &uot;(Old) Dr. Saunders (an Aulander physician) pulled her through.&uot;

Seventy-nine years later, even the best medicine available couldn’t save her life. She was on 22 different medications at the time of her death.

Her passing took a toll on the two men in her life. Her son took it especially hard as his mother passed away a mere 24 hours prior to his birthday (Nov. 22).

&uot;She died at 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 21,&uot; said Donnie. &uot;My exact time of birth, 59 years ago, was 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 22. But her pain is no more. She has left us and now she is peaceful with our Lord in heaven.&uot;

Donnie Shores was able to give back to his mom in her time of need. With CF taking its toll, Mrs. Shores was unable to care for herself. Her son was at her beckon call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

&uot;All these many years, mama has taken good care of us all,&uot; he said. &uot;Her mind was strong and the love in her heart was strongest. She and dad made me all that I am. The last few years I have returned the love, taking good care of her and dad. Now my heart is her heart, living on.&uot;

Looking back on the weeks, days and hours leading up to her death, Donnie firmly believes his mother knew her time was short.

&uot;She knew,&uot; he stated. &uot;Several days before, she made requests for my birthday. The cake was to read ‘Happy Birthday, You Are Special’ and more specifics. Dad had the cake made as she requested. On the Saturday night before she died, Dad and I showed her the cake. She smiled and said ‘Happy birthday Donnie’. I thanked her for those sweet words and reminded her my birthday was not till Monday. She said, ‘I know’. Well. She knew. Those were her last words to me.&uot;

While in bed early the next morning, Mrs. Shores turned to her husband and whispered ‘Darling’. Her soul then slipped off to Heaven as she faded into eternal sleep.

&uot;Dad woke me up to come to her,&uot; recalled Donnie. &uot;I collapsed on her body, hugged her, kissed her, and said ‘good bye mama, I love you’. As my tears dripped on her body, I could only hope, wish, and pray she heard my final words and felt my love. But I know, she knew.&uot;

There are approximately 30,000 people in the United States with CF, 3,000 in Canada and 30,000 in other areas of the world. In the U.S., there are approximately 2,500 new cases diagnosed each year.

Currently, there is no cure for CF, but there are many promising new treatments in use and even more on the horizon.

The median life expectancy for a person with CF is now 32. Many people even live into their 50’s and 60’s, but none have equaled the time Mrs. Shores spent on this Earth. Indeed, she was a fighter to the very end.