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Cystic fibrosis claims 26-year-old Scarborough woman who inspired others

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Cystic fibrosis claims 26-year-old Scarborough woman who inspired others

SCARBOROUGH — Friends and family will gather Friday, Aug. 2, in Portland to honor the life of Ashley Drew, the Scarborough native whose fight against cystic fibrosis and receipt of a double lung transplant drew statewide attention.

Drew, 26, died July 25 at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston after a series of strokes, 411 days after the transplants.

"She didn't want anyone feeling sorry for her," her mother, Joy Drew, said Tuesday. "She gave us so much in those 26 years. We didn't shelter her, she pursued everything she wanted to."

A 2004 graduate of Scarborough High School and 2009 graduate of the University of Maine at Orono, Drew was born with cystic fibrosis, but concealed the disease from friends and teachers throughout middle and high school.

"She was certainly courageous, she never gave up. She wanted to live and she wanted to use those lungs," Joy Drew said.

Growing up, Drew endured various therapies, including wearing a vibrating vest to keep her lungs clear. She was on and off donor lists at Brigham and Women's and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for 540 days before rushing to Boston late one night to prepare for the transplant surgery.

Her description of the trip in 2012 was marked by her characteristic sense of humor.

"I remember I went into my room. I was in my pajamas and I needed something to wear," she said.

After the transplant, she came home knowing her body might reject the new lungs she needed to survive.

"I'm on an insane amount of pills, but they are easier to deal with," she said in July 2012.

Drew's diagnosis came when, as an infant, her mother noticed her skin tasted salty. That is a symptom of cystic fibrosis, a genetically transmitted disease that fills lungs with mucus and inhibits breathing. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation estimates people with the disease have a median life expectancy of 37 years.

In high school, she ran track and played volleyball, and played piccolo, flute and saxophone in the school band and jazz ensemble. Drew earned an honors degree in instrumental conducting at the University of Maine while playing in the band and jazz groups.

Throughout her life, her abiding faith never wavered.

"God has got this," she said frequently.

Friends and family in Scarborough and Orono rallied to her aid with benefit concerts, T-shirt sales and other fundraisers to help defray medical and therapy expenses. Drew's story was also featured on a website set up in support of the federal Affordable Health Care Act.

But much of her last year was spent hospitalized in Boston, with her family close by.

"We would have done it another year and another year and another year," Joy Drew said. "Home became where we were."

Although her chance to meet the family of her donor did not come to pass, Drew did not pass up chances to help the New England Organ Donor Bank find potential donors.

Her mother said the Air for Ashley fund set up to defray costs associated with staying in Boston and uninsured expenses will become a foundation to help others needing transplants.

"We had so much help from the community and people we didn't know from all over the United States," Joy Drew said.

Drew is also survived by her father, Tom Drew, of Scarborough; and her brother, Justin Drew, and his wife, Amy.

Contributions to Air for Ashley can be made care of Care of Primary Residential Mortgage, 360 U.S. Route 1, Suite 300, Scarborough, ME 04074.

The celebration of Drew's life will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 2, at First Baptist Church, 360 Canco Road, Portland.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.