PARKERSBURG - Student, actor and philanthropist Travis Flores spoke with students at Parkersburg South High School Thursday about living with cystic fibrosis and his efforts to help other youth struggling with illness.
Flores, a 2009 graduate of Frontier High School, will graduate in May with a masters degree from New York University at the age of 22.
Flores spoke with students about the health issues caused by cystic fibrosis and how it has affected his life. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease which causes mucus to build up in the lungs. It can lead to severe breathing problems, weight loss and even death.
MICHAEL ERB Special to the Times
Parkersburg South High School health teacher Jon Bolen, left, listens as guest speaker Travis Flores, right, speaks with students Thursday at the school. Flores, who has cystic fibrosis, spoke about how the disease has affected his life and how it has driven his charitable work.
"The mucus in my lungs is like bubblegum," he said.
The disease also places a tremendous level of stress on the immune system, making him much more susceptible to serious and life-threatening illness. Flores said he can become winded easily, struggles to maintain his weight and must use a feeding tube to supplement his diet.
Health teacher Jon Bolen said he has known Flores for more than five years and continues to be impressed with his dedication and drive.
"He is one of the toughest guys," Bolen said. "He is just an inspiration to me. If anybody can do it, it's this guy."
"It's just willpower," Flores said. "It's just going after it."
Flores said he has had setbacks, from health issues to personal tragedy. A year ago a close friend of his who also had cystic fibrosis fell ill and died because she was unable to afford a lung transplant.
"She had to raise a half-million dollars in six weeks (to have the operation). Who could do that?" Flores said.
Though he still chokes up talking about his friend, Flores said she was an inspiration for him and continues to be a driving force in his philanthropic work.
In 2005, Travis started his own children's foundation, the Travis Flores Children's Foundation, which had a mission to provide brand new laptops to chronically ill children who are isolated in their hospital rooms during treatments. Flores said Thursday they are in the process of rebranding the organization as "Strengthline."
Flores said he wanted to change the foundation's name in part because "it's not about me. It tells the story of a lot of people who are going through the same thing as me."
The "Strengthline" name comes from the idea of helping critically ill youth connect with supporters. In addition to providing laptops to those in need, Flores said the group hopes to establish a social network for ill children to help them forge those links.
Flores said he also has been working on a reality television show called "Listed," which would feature youth waiting for transplants and provide ways to raise money for their operations. The show is still in development, but Flores said he is beginning to shop it to networks.
For more information on Flores, visit www.travisflores.org/.