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story.lead_photo.caption Even after finding out the unlikely news that they were both carriers of cystic fibrosis, Mike and Anne Preston were determined to start a family. The couple, expecting a son who has a 25 percent chance of being born with the disease, have dedicated themselves to raising awareness of it ... and funds for its cure. They will be honored with the Breath of Life award at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Arkansas’ Breath of Life Gala on Nov. 3 at the Statehouse Convention Center. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

Anne and Mike Preston are like any expectant couple. They are looking forward to spending time with their first child, a son whose arrival will be on or around Jan. 8.

Being six and a half months pregnant, Anne shared the concerns of any mom-to-be with a forthcoming photo shoot calling for evening wear. Local boutique Unveiled came to the rescue with a stunning red gown whose cascading ruffles were pinned to her expanding waistline for a flattering look. A cosmetics makeover from Face Your Day Salon gave her a further boost.

What she and her husband are determined not to worry about: the possibility that their baby could be born with cystic fibrosis.

The two are both carriers for the disease -- "a progressive genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time," according to online information from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

"We didn't know until we started going through the process of trying to have a child of our own," Mike says. "[We] went to a doctor who ran tests first on Anne, just kind of as a precaution, and not thinking anything of it -- and it came back that she was a carrier. But then [she was told], 'Oh, don't worry; your husband would have to be a carrier, too.'" The chances of both being carriers were 1 in 600.

"But then you get that call," Mike says. They were that 1 in 600.

"When you're hit with something like that, you have some options," Anne says. "You can wallow in that news, or you can do something about it. We may have taken a few days to wallow." But then they wondered, "How can we turn this thing that's happening to us into a positive?"

The answer: They would become supporters of and volunteers for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

"Once we found out about our personal connection to cystic fibrosis, we knew that getting involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation right away was something that we just felt called to do," she adds.

The Prestons are both Florida transplants to Little Rock. Mike is executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, a post to which Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed him in March 2015. Anne, a former news anchor in Tampa, Fla., does multiple newscasts for The Media Gateway, a Little Rock-based production studio for which she anchors local newscasts for other cities.

When the couple moved to Little Rock, she immediately began a volunteer role with the then newly formed Arkansas Woman of Inspiration fundraiser for the Children's Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, on whose advisory council she serves. She served as co-chairman of the 2017 Woman of Inspiration gala and, in addition, volunteers with Easter Seals.

NEWS OF THE UNTHINKABLE

When both parents are cystic fibrosis carriers, their child has a 25 percent chance of having the disease. There's a 50 percent chance the Prestons' son will also be a carrier.

"It changes your perspective," Anne says. "And it immediately changed our course. We may not have a child yet that's affected with this disease, but we could."

The Prestons contacted the foundation's Arkansas chapter and immersed themselves in its 2018 activities: its Great Strides walk in May at the Little Rock Zoo, and its Taste of the Finest fundraiser in August at Statehouse Convention Center's Wally Allen Ballroom, at which they served as masters of ceremonies.

The couple will also receive the Breath of Life Award at the foundation's 2018 Breath of Life Gala, a black-tie-optional event Nov. 3 at the Statehouse which is a time to celebrate the foundation's year of progress toward a cure.

The road to pregnancy had been long and tough, one the couple decided to travel despite the knowledge that they might not have a healthy baby.

"To say that we've had a hard time getting pregnant would be an understatement," Anne says. "We tried very hard on our own" before pursuing in vitro fertilization for a year.

Their doctor, a Colorado physician, had given them a grim outlook for their chances of having a child. They were getting ready to begin a final round of treatment when they found out they were expecting.

"I felt like we put science aside and put our faith in God," Anne says. "We don't know if this child has cystic fibrosis or not, but I truly believe he was sent to us and was meant to be our child and we just can't wait to love on him whether he is a healthy carrier, not affected at all, or has cystic fibrosis."

The Prestons shared their story at this year's Taste of the Finest, which combines a tasting offered by area restaurants with the presentation of young professionals who have vied with each other to raise the most money for the organization.

"Being a part of the CF Foundation and working with them, and starting to volunteer, kind of gave us that level of comfort and understanding that there's other people out there who are living and thriving with advances in medicine, thanks to research done by the CF Foundation," Mike says. "So we just knew immediately, we wanted to get involved ... we just wanted to volunteer and sign people in at events and just help where we could.

"I guess given our position and what we do here in the state, people saw that ... 'They could help raise [the] profile.' If there's anything we can learn from this, it's let's teach more people about this disease and how they can help -- and hopefully one day it'll lead to a cure."

Anne agrees.

"Raising money here in Arkansas has been something incredibly rewarding for both of us," she says. "All of our closest friends really got behind us and said 'OK. You guys, we're here to support you; we're going to help you as best we can.' I'm so happy to say we've already raised a record amount of money for the Breath of Life Gala, and so much so that we sold out the event months ago and had to move to a larger venue."

She's encouraged by the lives of the adults she has met who live with the disease.

"It wasn't so long ago that people with cystic fibrosis did not live to adulthood," she says. "I think meeting other adults who are having successful, productive lives living with cystic fibrosis has really given us a lot of [encouragement] for what our son's life could look like if that's the fate he is faced with."

She also has a close friend from college whose son has cystic fibrosis. He has recently gotten on a new medicine that foundation research and funding helped to create. "It has been a life-changer for him and his health."

The gala -- consisting of a cocktail hour, live and silent auctions, dinner, and dancing to Mayday by Midnight -- will feature an adult CF Ambassador who, along with his family, will be recognized.

ACCENTUATING THE POSITIVE

The Prestons won't know until their son is born whether he has the disease. They prefer to look on the bright side: There's a 75 percent chance of the baby being healthy and unaffected. And they believe there will be a cure for the disease in their and their son's lifetimes.

Meanwhile, "I'm just trying to enjoy the pregnancy," Anne says. "It's something I've prayed for for a long time."

So what will she wear to the gala? She figures it'll be a decision she'll make "the week of, based on my size rapidly changing."

"She'll look beautiful either way,'" Mike predicts.

Breath of Life Gala, 6 p.m. Nov. 3, Statehouse Convention Center, 101 E. Markham St. Individual tickets: $250. Visit Arbreathoflifegala.eventscff.org.

Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Mike and Anne Preston, volunteers for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Arkansas Chapters and honorees of the chapter’s Nov. 3 Breath of Life Gala, are expectant parents who are both carriers of the disease. “I won’t pretend it’s not scary,” she says. “It is a scary thought to think of having a child with a chronic, incurable disease. But he, I think, will ... have a lot of support, if that’s the case. And we’ll do whatever we can.”

High Profile on 10/07/2018

Print Headline: Couple raising awareness with cystic fibrosis benefit

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