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Healthwatch 16: Masks protect those with invisible illnesses

A young woman from Wayne County with cystic fibrosis shares her message about masking and keeping folks safe.

PLEASANT MOUNT, Pa. — We frequently hear advice to wear a mask when you're out and about to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Medical experts say it, doctors say it, and this healthy-looking young woman from Pleasant Mount, Wayne County wants to say it, too.

"It's hard at my age to be stuck indoors when you feel good and want to actually go out and enjoy your life!"

Kaitlyn Hentschel is 20 years old, a typical college student. She attends Bloomsburg University. But you wouldn't know by looking at her that since she was 2 weeks old, Kaitlyn has battled cystic fibrosis. That's a condition characterized by the overproduction of mucus in the lungs, making her more prone to infection and decreased lung function.

"The lungs can get gummed up with mucus, the airways get mucus in them, which constricts air access to the lungs," said Dr. Jonathan Spahr, a pediatric pulmonologist at Geisinger Medical Center.

Dr. Spahr was Kaitlyn's doctor until she graduated to adult care.

"She has worked very hard to keep herself healthy. I was sad to see her go but really happy for her," said Dr. Spahr.

"Thankfully, I'm doing well, but it's still a struggle to stay healthy each day, and stay active and out of the hospital," Kaitlyn said.

Kaitlyn says she put her life on hold when the pandemic first began, like many Americans did, by staying home and avoiding everyone. Catching the virus could cause her very serious complications.

Now, she's out and about a bit more, and does wear masks, even though it's difficult but wants to remind people the simple act of wearing a mask could save her life, and lives of others whose daily medical battles aren't obvious.

"I get it! It's hard. But you have to keep me safe, and everyone else with invisible illnesses."