Hungry for life: Football player fights cystic fibrosis

Clovis Christian senior Corey Hastings prays before the start of a game against the New Mexico School for the Deaf on Thursday at Jim Hill Field in Clovis. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

When Corey Hastings was 4, his father ordered him an adult’s steak-finger basket at a Dairy Queen.

Surprised at the boy’s appetite, the woman behind the counter told Corey’s father if the youngster could eat the entire meal, then she’d buy it. Not only did he finish his meal, he ate a few of his father’s fries, Terry Hastings said.

For many people, a big appetite is a curse. For Corey Hastings, who has cystic fibrosis, it’s a blessing.

“He has a ravenous appetite,” said his mother, Rhonda Hastings. “God’s allowed him to be so special and so different.”

Because of his disease, which affects the respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems, Hastings — a 17-year-old senior on Clovis Christian’s football team — has to eat heavy, high-carbohydrate foods or his body will deteriorate.

A genetic disorder, there are approximately 30,000 people in the United States with the disease, for which there is no cure. The median average life expectancy is 31 years, according to the U.S. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. But if Hastings stays healthy, he could easily live to 50 or 60, his parents said.

Most children are diagnosed at birth; Hastings was diagnosed at 7. Nobody else in Hastings family has had the disease, Terry said.

His father said Corey needs to intake about 6,000 calories daily, almost three times the amount most teens digest.

He drinks about three gallons of milk a week, has a hankering for sweets and embraces anything high in carbohydrates. He takes medication to help him digest his food.

“I wish we were a dairy family sometimes with all the milk he drinks,” Rhonda said.

Besides extra eats, Hastings wears a therapy vest for about 45 minutes in the morning and before he goes to bed. The vest rattles his chest, breaking up the mucus that inhibits his breathing.

He also brings an oxygen tank to football games, where he can often be heard from as far as the stands coughing and hacking up mucus that has accumulated in his chest.

On Thursday, after scoring one of his three touchdowns (he threw for another) in a 54-30 loss to the New Mexico School for the Deaf, Hastings went to the tank, inhaling fresh air as a coach massaged his head with a towel.

“He’s an outstanding athlete, one of the top athletes on the team,” Clovis Christian coach Carlos Velasquez said. “With his effort that he gives, we don’t even notice the cystic fibrosis …”

At 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds, Hastings has little to no body fat. He’s quick, and coordinated enough to play every position.
But what he enjoys the most is making bone-rattling hits.
“I like … taking my frustration out. I may not be the biggest guy out there but I act like it,” Hastings said.

Even though he’s been to the hospital twice for pneumonia — for 10 days in the second grade and three days eight months ago during the Christmas holidays — Hastings said he worries little about the dangers of his disease.

His parents worry more, but said they don’t want to shelter their child. For them, God is in control.

“We can’t put him in a glass bubble,” Terry said. “If you saw him walking down the street with other high school juniors and seniors you’d never know he had the disease. He’s very fortunate in that aspect. We go to clinics and there’s kids 15 … and they weigh 50 pounds.”

Corey Hastings knows he’s fortunate, too.

He knows that his disease doesn’t prevent him from doing all the things teens his age do.

If he were the spokesperson for cystic fibrosis, this would be his advice: “Do your breathing and put your faith in God that he’ll keep your health. Just because you have cystic fibrosis doesn’t mean you have to be different.”

He added: “Eat a lot.”