The Spirit of Elvis and Cystic Fibrosis

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Rod Spadinger

It was a new place and the end of a long road trip. The final stop of the trip that I had, only days ago, and hundreds of miles away, met both a Cystic Fibrosis Warrior and the family of a fallen Cystic Fibrosis Warrior. Indeed, the family of a Cystic Fibrosis Angel

With this stop, after a 245-mile morning drive, which made my legs feel tighter than the All-Season Firestone tires that had been managing my Civic on this cross-country excursion, to this Mississippi town, I was about to meet a CFer. One who is young in age, and fighting the battle of this disease, which has shaped and built the character of so many. I was excited.

After leaning over to locate my oak-brown cane on the passenger side, I made my way into the restaurant on Main Street, where I was to meet Valerie Pettit, this disease conqueror, and her family. 

I found that the afternoon zest of the parking lot, where I barely managed to find a spot, was matched with the feverish atmosphere inside this eatery in the town Elvis made famous several decades ago. Rescuing me from the masses near the entrance was Sue, Valerie’s mom. After a quick conversation and a washroom stop, with coffee in hand, I sat down to chat for what turned out to be an hour-long lunch with Valerie’s husband, Travis, her sister, Jennifer, and cousin, Meredith. 

From behind our matching Halyard masks, I entered into a dialogue with Valerie who was sitting diagonally across from me at the high, rectangular table. With a distance of approximately six feet between us.

What I saw in this Warrior was different than what I had seen in other CFers. Not that it was better or worse, but merely characterized as different. Different because in Valerie, I saw youth. I saw freshness. The youth of a near newlywed, who just celebrated her flower anniversary during the last week of June. The freshness of someone who has not allowed Cystic Fibrosis to manage their body. Knowing that she has a full life ahead of her, and confident that CF is no match for her. 

I learned, through our conversation, that Valerie is active in not only participating in clinical trials to test meds that will benefit the population in the future, but, also in coaching an All-Star-laden youth softball team with her sister. Cystic Fibrosis is not touching her goals. 

We talked about transplant. About how my angel donor Joni Marie saved my life with the priceless gift of her lungs and liver at a time when I needed it most. The gift that allowed me to join in the gathering on that day.

From behind our masks, we talked about life. About Valerie and Travis’ future family. Her stories about battling CF. All from someone who has seen Cystic Fibrosis, has witnessed what it can do, and is vowing, in both words and actions, not to allow it to pilfer her future.  

it was not merely the Halyard masks that were matching during my lunch with Valerie and her crew. It was the spirit. The spirit of a Warrior that is distinctively in all of us with Cystic Fibrosis. And during that lunch, nothing shone brighter than that spirit. That courage. That shared fight.

It was from behind those matching Halyard masks that I found a Fighter. 

It was from behind those matching Halyard masks that I found someone who is in the battle with CF. In a battle she will never lose.

It was from behind those matching Halyard masks that I found a Warrior. A true Warrior.

And I was entirely thankful for finding it all in this thriving Cystic Fibrosis patient residing in that town of Tupelo, my final destination.

It was the perfect way to end a road trip. 


 Help Others Live STRONGER and LONGER- 



Rod Spadinger, 47, has Cystic Fibrosis. Born and raised in Hawaii, he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he underwent a double lung and liver transplant in August 2017. From the age of four, until he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as a junior in high school, he ran at least five miles a day, in order to keep his lungs clean. Rod’s exercise routine now consists nearly daily visits to the gym. He is on a continuing journey to connect with fellow Cystic Fibrosis patients throughout the United States, having driven over 24,000 miles in 2019 with these travels. Inspired by The Lord and his angel donor, Joni Marie, who provided him with her gifts of life, Rod published the memoirs of his post-transplant journey, and celebration of this second life, in the book “A Collection of 50 Stories Inspired by my Ange Donor, Joni Marie”. He is currently compiling a subsequent publication, primarily consisting of documenting his road trip encounters with fellow CF Warriors. Rod also founded a CF focused non-profit organization, Ashleigh’s Life Foundation (, and is currently establishing the non-profit organization, CF Vests for Life Foundation.  Connect with him on Facebook under his name, and on Facebook at Cystic Fibrosis Artists; Two New Lungs, One New Liver – A Year and Beyond with Cystic Fibrosis; Cystic Fibrosis Road Warrior – Ashleigh’s Life Foundation; and CF Vests for Life Foundation.



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