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Chester County Press

Editorial: The diminutive pugilist

05/26/2021 10:43AM ● By Richard Gaw

“I think all of this has taught me so much, but more than anything what it has taught me is that everyone has their struggles. As my mother says, ‘If everyone threw their problems into a pile and you had to go pick one out, you’d be quick to pick yours back up.’”

             April L. Hansen, October 23, 1992 – May 12, 2021

During the early afternoon of Friday, March 5, the Chester County Press reporter began what would become an hour-long conversation with 28-year-old April Hansen.

His purpose for the interview was to speak with Ms. Hansen about the perilous state of her life in the wake of living most of it with cystic fibrosis, an inherited, genetic disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs of the body. As with most profiles associated with the Chester County Press, Hansen’s story had a local angle; after being raised in North Carolina, Hansen moved with her mother Nina and father Eric to New London in 2001 and graduated from Avon Grove High School in 2011.

The phone call, however, was not a local one. Hansen was speaking to the reporter from her apartment in the Washington Heights section of northern Manhattan, just a few blocks from The Irving Medical Center at Columbia University, where she frequently visited for check-ups, testing and consultations with an endless army of lab coats.

The reporter listened as Hansen rolled through her daily regimen; she was ingesting three enzymes before breakfast, followed by a sinus rinse and peritoneal dialysis procedure, which would be followed by another sinus rinse later that evening, another round of dialysis and the consumption another 15 pills.

As Hansen spoke, the reporter looked at the photograph of her on his computer screen. She appeared too tiny a human being to be able to withstand this punishment, far too delicate to own the voice that he was hearing on the telephone, the one that was often interrupted by a guttural cough so harsh that it seemed to own two fists that it used intermittently to pound away at the young woman’s lungs.

Yet as she continued to share her journey with the reporter, he heard the regimented strategies of a prizefighter, backed against the ropes but refusing to surrender. Hansen spoke of her condition the way one would in describing an immovable presence, and with the resignation of accepting that her life was dictated by a forever foe.

She talked about the lung transplant in 2013 and the operation in 2014 that removed sinus polyps. She talked about her efforts to find a kidney donor, which if found and accepted by Hansen’s body, would allow her to live dialysis free. It was a campaign that began on social media and extended to Hansen and her friends plastering the telephone poles and bulletin boards in various Manhattan neighborhoods with posters, calling for a donor to come forward.

“A lot of my strength and resilience has come from the challenges of Cystic Fibrosis,” she said. “As a teenager, I really wanted my condition to go away, so that I could just be normal. Now that I am a bit older, I have realized that there is no such thing as normal. Everyone has different challenges and they’re all different, but CF has greatly contributed to who I have become as a person, so to imagine myself without Cystic Fibrosis is hard, because I don’t know how I would have turned out.”

On May 21, the reporter received an e-mail from a friend of the Hansen family, informing him that April had died on May 12. She was only 28 years old. In a subsequent e-mail, the friend wrote that April had just gotten on a kidney transplant list and was preparing to move to North Carolina to be closer to the transplant team of doctors.

There has never been and there never will be a way to properly accept the death of a young person who did not deserve to die. It is like justifying the apocalypse, or reconciling with indecency. Yes, there will likely be flowers and the most proper of condolences, but while the end game of a person’s life will never be as glorious as the life he or she led, the death of a 28-year-old young person is a crime – a theft of unimaginable atrocity.

Left with this – with the passing of a woman he had only known for one hour – the reporter searched for rainbow colors in the ashes, and the only image he conjured up was the photograph of the diminutive pugilist he saw on his computer screen, the one with the broken voice, who shared with him the particulars of what had become the fight to save her own life.