OAKLAND — Growing up with cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the respiratory system and lungs, hasn’t been easy for Adriana Pettengill and her brother Blake.

But the disease hasn’t stopped the two young elementary school students from enjoying their childhood. Monday morning, the siblings led about 350 people in a parade at Atwood Primary School to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The parade raised nearly $700.

“It was great to see the community come together like that and see people support our children,” said Travis Pettengill, father of Adriana and Blake.

Both Adriana, 5, and Blake, 7, were born with cystic fibrosis, Pettengill said. While the twice-daily treatments and constant medication has been both costly and a burden, the bond that Adriana and Blake share with each other runs strong and deep.

“The benefit, if there is one with having two children with a disease, is they can be there as a sounding board for each other,” Pettengill said. “They like to fight and bicker amongst themselves, but they’re quick to stick up for one another, especially if anyone else comments on them. It’s given them a connection and closeness we hoped for with two children so close in age.”

Despite the disease, which requires two 20-minute treatments per day to help clear a sticky mucus that builds up in the lungs as well as several doses of medicine per day, the two children are still active and engaged — Adriana is partial to gymnastics, while Blake is active in baseball and football.

“They do stuff like normal kids, but when they play hard, they get tired quicker,” Pettengill said. “The daily treatments help their lungs function and allow them to live normal lives.”

Even though the treatments have been a part of their daily routine since Adriana and Blake can remember, there are times they wish they didn’t have to do it, according to their father.

“There are times they complain. They say things like, ‘I wish I was a normal kid and didn’t have to do treatment,'” Pettengill said, adding that he and his wife, Kathy, work to make the daily treatment as enjoyable as possible. “We try to be positive as parents and make it a positive experience for the kids. If they do a good job, we’ll reward them.”

Despite the Pettengill children’s desire for “normalcy,” Monday’s parade was conceived as a way to allow the rest of students at the school — which serves children from pre-kindergarten to second-grade — to gain a glimmer of understanding of what daily life is like for their two classmates, according to Atwood Principal Jennifer McGee.

“Our goal is to teach empathy to our students,” McGee said. “The whole idea of the parade is to be walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s being mindful of classmates’ struggles and their different pathways and experience.”

The annual parade, which marked its seventh year on Monday, focuses each year on people facing challenges. In its first year, a student at Atwood had Type 1 diabetes, so the parade was established to raise money for the American Diabetes Association.

“We thought it was a great way to end our school year. It’s a great tie-in for all our messages,” McGee said.

In other years, the school has supported the American Cancer Society, but with this being the last year that second-grader Blake and his younger sister would be together at the Atwood, it was an easy decision to make the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation the beneficiary of the parade, McGee said.

“Just about everyone was wearing purple, which is the color for cystic fibrosis awareness, and people had pictures of Adriana and Blake around their neck,” McGee said. “It was us saying, ‘We’re in this with you.'”

At the beginning of the month, McGee sent home a flier describing Adriana’s and Blake’s illness while also detailing their favorite hobbies and activities. Blake loves trucks, Adriana loves to plant flowers with her mother. Blake loves the beach, Adriana loves purple.

“It just so happens, purple is the color that represents cystic fibrosis,” the flier read. “Blake and Adriana, our adorable and giggly brother and sister pair, both have cystic fibrosis. … If you didn’t know any better, you would never guess these two beautiful children have such a serious disease. But they do.”

The flier invited people in the community to participate in the one-mile parade and to bring donations of any size. Despite their financial burden of daily treatment and weekly prescriptions that cystic fibrosis calls for, the Pettengills are donating the nearly $700 from the parade to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“Even though there is a financial strain, we want kids not as fortunate as our son and daughter to get the help and treatment they need,” Pettengill said.

As for the stars of the show, Adriana and Blake were excited with all the attention Monday morning.

“I’ve never been in a parade,” Blake said, as his sister added: “And I’ve never been in a cop car!”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @jessescardina


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