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Teen brothers are cystic fibrosis patients who inspire others

Meet Devon and Dillon Gonzalez.

Devon, 15, is a sophomore in the Blake High musical theater program. Long before he took lessons, he could pick out tunes on the piano and play them in full. He also plays guitar and sings.

He had a solo in the school's performance of Les Miserables and is now part of the school's Gypsy cast. Despite his talent, Devon longs to attend the University of South Florida and become an engineer. He loves to take things apart like telephones, but admits he's not always able to put them back together.

Dillon, 14, attends the Rampello Downtown Partnership School and loves sports. The eighth-grader practically learned to read with the help of sports pages.

A young person who reads the paper? Can we clone him?

When he's not immersed in sports, he plays the trumpet in the school band like his grandfather Onelio Ochoa, a member of Tampa's famed '50s music group, the Rockers.

"They're just normal kids," says mother Desiree Gonzalez, "who happen to have a disease."

Devon and Dillon have triumphed despite having cystic fibrosis, a debilitating genetic disorder that clogs the lungs, impairs the digestive system and has no cure.

I expected to come away from our meeting saddened by their struggles, but the brothers inspire others with an upbeat attitude that almost masks their plight.

Almost.

"Hopefully, they won't have it much longer," Desiree says. "I'm convinced that in their lifetime they will find a cure for CF."

Of the two, Dillon has the biggest challenges. He takes medication and receives breathing treatments three to four times a day, along with wearing a vibrating chest vest to help loosen the thick, debilitating mucus in his system. He goes through 14-day hospital stays three to four times a year to get "tuneups."

That's curbed his ability to participate in contact sports, but next year he will attend Jefferson High, which has a sports management program. If he can't play football, he would love to coach it.

"I'm kind of mad that I've got it, but I know it gets worse when you get older," Dillon said. "I'm doing everything I can to stay healthy."

Devon goes through similar treatments with slightly less frequency, including 14-day hospital stints twice a year. Between treatments, Devon listens to today's rock, R&B and rap, but his favorite is a throwback: Stevie Wonder.

"He has a disability but he doesn't let that take over his life," Devon said.

The same could be said for these honor student brothers.

It's such stories that have inspired me to lend a hand to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I've helped the foundation partner with the Millennium Mentors of Tampa Bay for a special Final Four watch party on Saturday at downtown Tampa's 502 Sports Cafe, 502 N Tampa St.

Starting at 5 p.m., folks will gather to watch basketball, win door prizes and enjoy food and drinks, with the mentors donating the proceeds to the foundation. I'm grateful.

Dillon and Devon will meet some of the former athletes, like Anddrikk Frazier, who compose the core of the group. They'll share lessons with the kids about how to succeed in life.

Dillon and Devon will teach them a thing or two, too.

That's all I'm saying.

Teen brothers are cystic fibrosis patients who inspire others 03/30/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 30, 2009 10:39pm]
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