On the surface, Riley Pyle looks like your average high school student. Under the surface, however, she’s a brave soul and faces a severe illness with grace. Pyle, who’s a senior at Lincolnton High School was one of the many who spoke at the most recent Lincoln County Board of Education meeting requesting that they reconsider their mask optional decision. Even though she’s fully vaccinated and wears a face covering in public, Pyle is at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 because she has Cystic Fibrosis.
“I’ve never had to go to the hospital with it,” she said. “I know people who have been in the hospital all their life. I’m still at risk of catching COVID and other viruses.”
Twice a day, Pyle must strap on a Chest Physiotherapy vest which works to break up mucus in her lungs. She also has to do a nebulizer treatment with three different types of medicine. Throughout the day she takes upwards of 20 pills, many of them necessary to aid her digestion.
Cystic fibrosis is not a terribly common genetic disease. It’s a progressive disease and affects the sweat glands, respiratory system, digestive system, and reproductive system. At one time, the disease was essentially a death sentence with the average life span being approximately 30 years, but new medications have increased the survival rate. The new drug, Trikafta, has made Pyle’s symptoms a lot less severe and increased her chances for a normal lifespan.
The pandemic has been trying and frightening for a lot of people, especially those with underlying conditions. Before the vaccinations became available, Pyle didn’t go anywhere in public. She didn’t feel like she learned as much when everyone was remote learning, but she felt safer.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere inside,” she said. “I was worried about getting it. Even after I got vaccinated, I had a breakthrough infection, but it wasn’t too bad, just a fever and headache.”
Speaking in front of a crowd is nerve wracking for many people, especially a teenager, but at this meeting, Pyle had to speak over the hecklers who stood at the back of the room.
“I felt like the board wasn’t being very educated with their decision and were only thinking about what they wanted,” she said. “It’s better to speak and at least advocate for change. I emailed the board a couple of times but only Myra (Heavner) got back to me. A lot of my friends still wear a mask in school. It’s kind of split. It was nice getting the support from some of the people there. The others were rowdy. When we left the room, my grandmother and I were talking to a doctor and after I told him I had CF, another man blew smoke in my face and smiled. I didn’t want to pick a fight, so I didn’t say anything.”
There’s always been division, Pyle added. Some people want one thing and others want something else, but she said that wearing a mask is just like another piece of clothes that you wear.
Pyle is currently taking college classes through Gaston College. She’s considering either being a history teacher or perhaps getting a business degree so she could be an administrator at a nursing home.