One of the greatest challenges faced by children with cystic fibrosis is following their daily chest physical therapy, a regimen that is essential for clearing excess mucus that collects in the lungs of people with this genetic disease.
But a pair of artists from Virginia hopes to make that process a little less daunting for children. They’ve created a web comic, called 508 [508comic.net], that provides a snapshot of the morning routine of Wesley, a fictional 10-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis. To get through his therapy session, Wesley daydreams that he is piloting a starfighter that is battling aliens—bacteria that live in his lungs.
We spoke with the artists about their inspiration for 508, the response from patients and others, and their future plans.
What was your goal in creating a web comic about cystic fibrosis?
Wade: There’s a real problem with getting children and teenagers with CF to adhere to their care regimen. It can be a big imposition, if you allow it to be, if it’s not managed the right way … I got to thinking, there’s got to be a way to address this … Because I’m an illustrator and have a background in that, I figured what better way than a comic book.
Sean: We’re just trying to get the message out there about cystic fibrosis. The knowledge base about CF within the community is pretty low. We’re trying to expand that. This comic book is one avenue that we’re trying to use—something entertaining.
Wade: The most common form of CF is caused by a mutation—delta 508. Because that’s the most common, that’s the reason that I picked that name for the squadron of fighters in this space odyssey we’ve created.
Why did you focus on the chest physical therapy (PT) aspect of cystic fibrosis care?
Wade: A lot of the other things that we [people with cystic fibrosis] deal with are ancillary, and they don’t spiral into big problems. If you don’t do your chest PTs, that’s when you get the really bad mucus build-up in your lungs and you get infections.
Sean: I personally had a chance to watch one of Wade’s chest PT routines. And to go through something like that daily, even two to three times a day, it’s pretty intense.
Was it difficult to transform the chest physical therapy devices used by Wesley into his daydream starfighter without losing touch with reality?
Sean: Not really so much. When we changed the chest PT device into the cockpit control panel, it’s in front of him. While he’s flying and fighting the aliens—the bacterium—that thing is always in front of him. It’s counting down, it’s the control panel, he has to reset it after a big event. It wasn’t that difficult to come up with an idea for that.
What has been the feedback on 508?
Wade: The response has been far better than I could have ever imagined. I’ve had people from all over the country, different CF groups, spread the word about it, and want to use it with their kids. We’ve had some people ask if there is going to be a print run of it? Will there be more? That kind of stuff.
Sean: We have a decent following on Facebook and it’s been a very good response. We’ve had some people from CF foundations as far away as Canada who’ve replied about it. So it’s been, for a small time comic book like this, it’s been a very decent response. We are still going to keep expanding, trying to get more and more people to see it. It’s still ongoing. It’s slow right now, but it’s still ongoing.
Do you have plans to produce more comic books about cystic fibrosis?
Wade: Right now, we’re still tossing that ball around, because obviously Sean’s doing this pro bono, he’s not getting paid for it, he’s fitting it in with his other professional and personal responsibilities. It took us about a year to do this one, between all that he had to deal with and all that I deal with regularly.
508 shows only a small piece of Wesley’s life. What happens to him next?
Wade: He went and he lived a long healthy life, and did whatever he wanted to do. He lived the greatest adventure of all—he lived life. For a child with CF, who’s facing a very uncertain future, that’s a wonderful thing.
About the Artists: Wade Tooley, who has cystic fibrosis, is an illustrator by trade and developed the story of 508 in late 2012. Faced with a daunting workload, Wade enlisted the help of his longtime friend and fellow illustrator, Sean Moffatt to handle the artwork.