Gabriela Oates considers herself fortunate that her son Teddy, 2, was born at UAB Hospital.

Gabriela Oates, an educational research consultant in the Division of Preventive Medicine, is leading a team of volunteers from Preventive Medicine in the Great Strides Walk of the Alabama Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Oates’ team is called “Operation Teddy Bear” for her two-year-old son Teddy, who is fighting the disease.  The walk is Saturday, May 5; it will begin at 9 a.m. at the Birmingham Zoo.

Teddy is one of 30,000 children and adults across the United States diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The State of Alabama mandates newborn testing for nine genetic and metabolic defects at birth, but UAB performs additional tests that look for more than 50 genetic diseases, including CF.

“I give so much credit to UAB,” says Oates, an educational research consultant in the Division of Preventive Medicine. “UAB was the first hospital in Alabama to institute newborn screening for CF. Had Teddy been born in any other hospital in Alabama, we might not have known about his disease until now. Instead, we found out a week after he was born.”

In CF, a defective gene causes the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs — leading to life-threatening lung infections — and stops the pancreatic enzymes from breaking down food, resulting in serious digestive complications.

In the 1950s, few children with CF lived to attend elementary school. Today, advances in research and medical treatments — many of which have been pioneered at UAB’s Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center — have extended and enhanced life for children and young adults with CF. Many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s and 40s.

Oates will be helping to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis research Saturday, May 5 as leader of a team of volunteers from Preventive Medicine in the Great Strides Walk of the Alabama Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The walk begins at 9 a.m. at the Birmingham Zoo.

Walk is crucial to efforts
Since 1955, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has been the driving force behind the pursuit of a cure. In 1989, CF Foundation-supported scientists discovered the CF gene. This discovery was a monumental breakthrough on the road to a cure because it enabled new research to target the root cause of the disease, not just the symptoms.

Today, there are more than 25 potential new therapies in the foundation’s drug-discovery and development pipeline, including therapies developed here at UAB.

Each year, 500 sites across the country host the Great Strides walks to raise money for CF research and care programs; more than $31 million was raised in 2006.

“Great Strides is crucial to our lifesaving efforts,” Oates says. “The scientific community is making tremendous progress in fighting CF, and we need to keep that momentum going. We are grateful for every walker and sponsor who joins us to make a difference in the lives of the many young people with CF.”

Operation Teddy Bear
Oates’ team, named Operation Teddy Bear, is inspired by Teddy. He was diagnosed without a family history of the disease, and the prompt diagnosis made it possible to manage Teddy’s disease from the onset, without him experiencing loss of lung function or impaired growth.

“Thanks to a strict daily treatment routine, Teddy remains healthy and has never been hospitalized,” Oates says. “He is active, inquisitive and happy as any 2-year-old child.”

Oates says researchers are confident that a breakthrough in CF is near. She hopes people will support CF research through Great Strides and help improve the long-term outlook for the 1,000 people who are diagnosed with CF each year.

“Our fund-raising efforts result in a dramatic improvement of care, outcomes and quality of life for every CF kid in this country,” she says. “We must position each child so that when the cure is found, he or she is well enough to take advantage of it. Every dollar we raise adds tomorrows to the lives of children with CF.”

To join Operation Teddy Bear or donate to the team, visit