Claire Shaw was excited to be pregnant at the same time as her next-door neighbor.
Her neighbor’s baby was born prematurely, so their two daughters were closer in age than expected. Just two weeks after Shaw’s neighbor delivered, she was watching the two little girls while her neighbor ran an errand. Shaw went to change both of the babies’ diapers, and the two were lying naked side-by-side.
“The premature baby looked big and strong next to my two-month-old daughter, who looked fragile, gray and whose ribs were poking out,” Shaw said.
Shaw knew she had to take her baby straight to the hospital. A couple of weeks later, Mindy was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Mindy Shaw, now Mindy Catmull, is now 21 years old, happily married and living in Saratoga Springs with her husband. She still has to fight her disease every day. Despite having CF, she has gone on to seek a career in medicine and works weekly at the Mt. Timpanogos LDS Temple.
Catmull weighed six pounds at birth and was still six pounds at two months old. Once her daughter was diagnosed, Shaw was instructed to put her baby on a 4,000-calorie-a-day diet. A healthy baby usually needs about 400 calories a day.
“She would maybe sleep ten minutes at a time for the first two years of her life,” Shaw said. “My husband moved our couch into our bedroom so I could hold her and sleep sitting up.”
Catmull described CF as a genetic disease that causes salt cells to not function properly, causing thick mucus in every lining of the body. It primarily affects the lungs, the pancreas and the sinuses, making it difficult to breathe and digest food properly. The thick mucus also creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, so it is easy for a person with CF to get infections.
Shaw said CF is the most common genetic disease in the United States. One in every 17 Caucasians is a carrier for the disease. It is a recessive gene, so both parents have to be carriers for their child to get it. Both partners are carriers in one of every 200 marriages.
“Once she was diagnosed, it wasn’t that horrifically scary to me because we had a way to deal with it,” Shaw said.
Catmull goes to a CF clinic every three months, where a team of doctors analyzes her current health condition. If her lung capacity has decreased since the previous visit, she must be admitted to the hospital for two weeks. This routine has lasted her entire life.
“It was pretty interesting being a kid with CF because it’s not even close to normal,” Catmull said. “I missed like 60 to 80 days of school a year.”
Most of her childhood was a constant cycle of going to the hospital, being admitted, then coming home with a PICC line or some other form of serious medication.
“My friends were nurses,” Catmull said. “It was weird having friendships as a kid because they would move on without me. Going back to them was kind of hard because I was there, and then I wasn’t, then I was there, and then I wasn’t.”
Shaw said raising a child with CF was chaotic because Catmull would do most of the things other normal kids would do but would have to add extra things on top of that like doctor appointments and medications.
“She really learned at a very young age to appreciate the times she was feeling well, and honestly she felt well more often than she felt sick,” Shaw said. “When she felt well she wanted to cram as much into that time as possible — playing a whole bunch of instruments and hanging out with 15 friends in one day. There was a while there where she wanted to be doing more than my four other kids combined, just making use of the time while she had it.”
Chloe Kordsiemon has known Catmull for the past six years and is one of her best friends.
“She inspires me because although she has been given a trial that many people can’t fathom living with, she doesn’t let it define her,” Kordsiemon said. “Living with CF isn’t easy, but because of it Mindy seizes every opportunity she is given and doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Catmull’s husband, Luke, understood the challenges of her disease well before he married her and loves her for exactly who she is.
“A lot of trials come with a degenerative disease,” he said. “But she is always very optimistic and looks on the bright side. She values things that I normally wouldn’t value. Even just watching television together is something she values.”
Mindy Catmull’s parents made sure Luke Catmull knew what he was getting into when he asked them for her hand.
“There’s times where I have had to call in sick to take care of her, but that’s part of the challenge, and I knew that from the beginning,” he said. “I never question whether or not it is worth it.”
Because of her condition, Mindy Catmull sought a career in medicine.
“Having cystic fibrosis, I saw a lot of kids that were sick, and I was that sick kid,” Mindy Catmull said. “There were nurses and doctors that wouldn’t treat you that nice, and then there were people that were life changing, like my pediatrician. There were lots of good nurses too. It’s different when you get someone who really cares how you feel, and I always wanted to be that person.”
Mindy Catmull participated in the certified nurses assistant program in high school because she originally wanted to be a nurse. Because of that program, she had the opportunity to tour part of a hospital.
“Because I signed up late, the last one available was the OR, the operating room,” she said. “It was like the most eye-opening, most awesome thing I have ever seen in my life.”
Mindy Catmull was able to witness a gall bladder removal and knew she wanted to be in surgery. She became a certified surgical technician.
She is the first assistant to the surgeon for Intermountain Donor Services, where she gets to work on the transplant team and fly around the states, mostly in the west, to help procure organs for transplant to people on the waiting list.
“It is so cool to me because being somebody who will eventually one day need a transplant, whether it’s my pancreas or lungs, I get to kind of give back,” she said. “Being able to give back is, I think, the best thing that could ever happen.”
Her new job has flexible hours, which is convenient because there are times when she is too sick to work.
Mindy Catmull enjoys that aspect of the job because she works weekly in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple.
“Money does not trump helping people and working in the house of the Lord,” she said. “For me it doesn’t.”
Mindy Catmull has to get up at 3 a.m. every Wednesday to work in the temple, something that would be difficult even for a completely healthy person.
“It’s extra, extra hard on me,” she said. “It puts me down for at least a day and a half and makes me really worn out. It’s really hard for me to work those hours, but I love it. I’ve seen so many blessings from it. I would do it every day if I could, but I can’t.”
Mindy Catmull said one of the biggest things that helps her get through hard times is when she focuses on helping and serving others, and working in the temple is a way for her to do that.
“Working in the temple is the most incredible thing in the world,” she said. “It has helped me see more of an eternal perspective on things and understand better why things happen.”
Mindy Catmull fights every day for her life, yet she chooses to focus on other things and other people.
“She’s always been really aware that she’s not the only person who goes through hard times,” Shaw said. “The biggest thing that helps her is knowing other people who are going through a rough time.”
Even though some days are difficult for Mindy Catmull, she makes sure others around her know that she loves them.
“From the first day I met her, I was inspired by her incredible positivity and kindness towards everyone she interacted with,” Kordsiemon said. “She doesn’t let her disease define her. Instead she fills her life with important and meaningful opportunities. After spending time with her, I am always inspired to be kinder, serve more and be grateful for the many blessings I enjoy.”