May 5, 2010

Until now, fighter needed no favors

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

Jack Cosgrove introduced the guest of honor to his football team and called for a photo. Hands reached out to hoist Ashley Drew onto the shoulders of Tyler Patterson and Steve Shea, two of the bigger men who play for the University of Maine.

click image to enlarge

University of Maine photo Ashley Drew of Scarborough, a UMaine graduate student and passionate trumpet player, gets a lift from Tyler Patterson, left, and Steve Shea on Saturday after the annual spring football game. The team helped raise money for Drew’s double lung transplant, which she needs because she suffers from cystic fibrosis.

University of Maine photo

Smiles brightened faces all around. Drew is a 23-year-old, vivacious, blond graduate student at Maine. Played the trumpet in the university's pep band, the tenor sax in the jazz band and the flute in the university symphony. Loves sports. Was a jumper and a race walker on the Scarborough High track team.

She has that gift that enables her to connect quickly with strangers. Which is why so many on the Maine football team gathered around her after Saturday's Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage at Alfond Stadium.

Later, players approached Cosgrove. He had told the team of the challenges Drew has faced and will face. Not everyone understood the terminology.

What's cystic fibrosis, coach?

"Isn't that the curvature of the spine?" said Patterson, when someone asked for his definition. He was thinking of scoliosis.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that clogs the lungs and digestive tract with sticky mucous that leads to lung infections. It also prevents the body from absorbing food. About 30,000 people in the U.S. have the disease. Drew is one.

"That's why she was so light," said Patterson, who quickly understood. "That makes you think. We're the lucky ones."

Weep not for Ashley Drew. She doesn't want your tears. She hid her disease from outsiders after starting high school. Misguided adults in Scarborough kept her off a middle school overnight trip to Quebec, believing her cystic fibrosis-induced lung infection was contagious.

She told her story only to those professors who needed to know when she arrived at Maine. "I told my best friend for two years that I had really bad asthma." That explained all the medications and a vest that would inflate and vibrate and help loosen the mucous in her lungs.

She didn't want any favors when she competed for positions as a musician. The cold of late October and November prevented her from joining the marching band. That hurt her chances of making the pep band that traveled to St. Louis in 2007 to support the Maine hockey team when it reached the Frozen Four.

"They could only take one trumpet player and anyone who was in the marching band had first dibs," she said.

She didn't want people to think she was weaker, so she worked harder mastering the instruments for which her lungs had to be strong.

Two years ago, another lung infection pushed her temperature to 101. Her doctor wanted her in the hospital. She insisted that she would play in a concert that was scheduled. The compromise was a tube inserted through a vein in her wrist that snaked up an arm and to her chest, serving as an IV.

The sleeve of her sweater hid the tube. She played nine songs that night.

"With music, I can express so many emotions. It's like shooting foul shots in basketball. You work so hard until you've just about mastered it. When you get to the foul line you feel like you're going to make your shots.

"I've worked so long with music that now, I can just play."

She graduated from Maine with a 3.77 grade-point average in 2009 and started work on her master's degree in instrumental conducting. She almost made it through her first semester.

Medicine and her humor and determination kept her disease at bay through high school and into college. This winter the disease caught her. She went into respiratory failure. She spent 12 days sedated in intensive care.

(Continued on page 2)

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