‘Perched between life and death right now’

Weston Hall Guest commentary

What happens when the stakes are high and you find yourself perched precariously on the edge of life and death?

Taylor Vanover, a native of Black Mountain resident and Owen High School graduate and softball player, could tell you what it feels like because she has experienced it. Vanover was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 11 months old. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease that affects the cells that produce secretions like mucus and sweat. The disease affects both men and women.

Cystic fibrosis blocks digestive enzymes so the patient is not able to absorb food, which causes them to have lower body density than other children. The gene that is linked to the cause of cystic fibrosis was identified in 1989 by scientist who determined that both parents must be carriers of the gene for it to manifest in a child. About 1,000 children are diagnosed with the disease in the United States every year.

Despite her diagnosis, Vanover’s health was generally under control with the exception of routine bouts of pneumonia. Less than a year ago, Vanover, now 22, was a healthy and newly married young woman playing coed softball. Vanover followed in the law enforcement footsteps of her father, Daryl Fisher, a retired Asheville Police Department officer. She always saw herself in law enforcement, and working as a campus police dispatcher for UNC Asheville allowed her to follow her dream without having jeopardize her health by going through the rigorous basic law enforcement training program.

In late October, Vanover became sick and unable to fully recover. She became too ill to work and had to resign her position at UNCA. Around Thanksgiving, she spent eight days in ICU, in a coma and hooked up to a ventilator. When she woke up, her father told her she had missed Thanksgiving and the Thanksgiving Day parade. She started to cry. “Don’t you just love that parade? It’s my favorite,” she said, laughing as she recounted the story to me from her hospital bed.

Because of the cystic fibrosis, Vanover needs a double lung transplant to prolong her life. After her surgery, she is eager to return to work and get back to playing softball. She dreams of getting back on the diamond with her new lungs to play the sport she grew up with and loves like nothing else.

Sarah Wells, Vanover’s long-time friend and catcher at Owen, said, “She was always the one who would motivate us and keep us going. If she is doing this, then we can do this as well. She has been fighting it for so long. She is the strongest person I have ever met.”

Kristin Wilson, another Owen High teammate and longtime friend, said, “We were more than a softball team - we were family. Sometimes I saw my teammates more than my family. Taylor was always the one that pushed us to be better. We wanted to be better for her. She was just that kind of person.”

Vanover is now entering the “transplant window,” a term doctors use to describe the period of time when a patient is eligible to receive a lung transplant. According to the Lung Transplant Foundation, “Transplantation is a major surgery that involves scarce resources, and medical evaluation is important in determining whether you are ready for surgery. To qualify for a lung transplant, your lung function and overall health must be poor enough to justify the operation, but not too poor to survive and thrive after surgery.”

Unfortunately, transplant surgery is not just about health issues - there are also overwhelming financial burdens. Vanover's husband, Trevor Vanover, feels that financial burden of doctor bills, expensive medicines, loss of work and costly trips to the hospital. Not only that, but after the surgery, the Vanovers must stay in Chapel Hill near the hospital for four months.

He is very optimistic, however. “We do what we have to do,” he said. “Taylor is a fighter, and she doesn’t let anything get her down. She has gone through a lot of things, and many people do not understand how hard it is to go through (something like that) every day. She is a strong person physically and mentally. She never lets anything get in her way or slow her down, and that is just unbelievable to me.”

Kim Fisher, Taylor Vanover’s mother, has taken on a large portion of the responsibility as caregiver. However, she is quick to point out that her and her husband are a team and work very hard together to ensure Vanover has the best medical care possible. Kim Fisher works for Black Mountain Presbyterian Weekday School. The church has been understanding and supportive of Fisher, who has had to take time off to drive Vanover to Chapel Hill and to appointments around Asheville. She will be Vanover’s primary caregiver after the transplant.

‘This is a big, exciting, yet scary, journey that we are all on but we thank God daily that Taylor is still with us.”

Vanover has gained a large following over the years. All of the people I interviewed for this article expressed the same sentiment as expressed by Sarah Wells. “She fights every single day, and she is a fighter for sure,” Wells said. “People have been keeping up with her. She is loved by so many, all of her softball family and the whole community.”

Taylor Vanover is perched between life and death right now. Her lungs are failing as she goes from one lung, to a half of one, to none at all. Medical bills have exceeded $50,000. She and her husband need people to rally around them with prayer and support. Kristen Wilson, her heart broken to see her childhood friend struggling with such a debilitating disease, emphatically urges, “Pray for her because she has to have new lungs. It is real. This is real!”

You can make a donation at cota.donorpages.com. Click the Patient Online Donation tab and search for her name.