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Tanner Belanger: A lifelong battle with chronic lung disease

Tanner Belanger, of Lampasas, Texas, was born at Scott & White, played street hockey up and down its halls, and slept at the hospital on his prom night. His long battle with a chronic lung disease has been difficult, but he has always had a team of Scott & White caregivers at his side, cheering him on.

When he was 20 months old, Tanner was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that shuts down the lungs’ ability to clear themselves of mucus and infection. He weighed just 13 pounds. Now 20 years old, Tanner graduated from Lampasas High School two years ago with the help of his "second family"—the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and other staff on Scott & White’s pediatric pulmonology team. "They’ve known me my whole life. They’re like family," says Tanner.

Tanner was frequently ill as a baby. "If you look at his baby calendar, every month I was taking him into Scott & White for something," says his mom, Rhonda Coonrod. When he contracted pneumonia in both lungs, the medical team decided to do some more tests, and Tanner’s cystic fibrosis was discovered.

"They’re always coming up with something new"

After Tanner was diagnosed, he and his family were able to manage his cystic fibrosis well with home breathing treatments, antibiotics, and quarterly trips to Scott & White. His family has been impressed with the care Tanner received. For example, instead of having a family member manually clear his airways by pounding on his chest and his back, as they did when he was younger, Tanner now uses a vibratory vest that takes less than half the time to complete the treatment. "It seems like they’re always coming up with something new," he says.

But as Tanner aged, his cystic fibrosis needed more attention, a common progression of the disease. Throughout his high school years, Tanner alternated between trips to Scott & White to fight off lung infections and his life as a varsity golfer at Lampasas High School. At prom time his senior year, Tanner was in the hospital again. But his pediatric team worked out a medication schedule so he could go to the dance.

"It’s part of life and they didn’t want him to miss those things. They worked around it so he could do everything everyone else did," says Mrs. Coonrod.

A graduation celebration

During finals week, the team rallied around Tanner and helped him study. Tanner was still in the hospital just a few days before his graduation, but the pediatric pulmonology team worked to get him healthy enough to celebrate. Debbie Orlandi and Barbara Baugh, Tanner’s first nurses, were invited.

"I tell the team I think we need to put Tanner’s diploma on the wall of the pediatric floor because it’s not just his. They got this together," says Mrs. Coonrod. Tanner still enjoys playing golf whenever he gets a chance, but his disease has progressed in a way that his pulmonology team now recommends lung transplantation.

Tanner is listed as a candidate for the surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, in hopes that new lungs will improve his quality of life and he can return to college at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.