Valerie's Recollections of Richard Andrew Young

August 4, 2006

I first met Richard Young over the internet. My first child with CF was diagnosed with it at the age of 9 months in August 1997. I immediately turned to the internet for information and perspective. I subscribed to cystic- l listserv for people and families dealing with CF.

Richard emailed me, saying he had seen some of my posts on cystic-l, and wondered if I was at BYU, because he was a student at BYU. It turned out he was a student in my own department, working on a BA/MA degree in public policy! I wanted to meet him, and I invited him to my office.

When he arrived, I had to hold in my emotions, which were still raw from our doctor telling us that our son's prognosis was death in his early twenties. For what I saw when Richard walked into the room was a young man, slender to the point of unhealthiness, with stooped shoulders, and a persistent cough that sounded like no other cough I have ever heard--deep and wet and unrelenting. The young man's body had been ravaged by CF, and he often toted an oxygen cannister on a little dolly behind him. The thought that CF would do to my beautiful son's body what it had done to Richard almost made me faint.

But then I got to know Richard. What I hadn't seen when I looked at his body was his eyes, the window to his soul. His eyes were bright blue, quick and intelligent. Richard had read widely, was a libertarian, and would debate anyone about anything. And he would win, too! He was as tenacious as a tiger. And he was as brave as a lion. When he read about a promising treatment involving inhaled L-arginine, he obtained the chemicals himself and mixed them up and tried them on himself to good effect! He was the bane of his CF doctors, mostly because he knew as much or more about the disease from his research than they did. He worked on developing his own NPD meter so that he could tell in a more empirical fashion when a treatment was helping him. He was in contact with CF researchers all over the world, who were amazed that he was a 22 year old college student. He knew that he had as much intelligence and knowledge of CF as most of those with whom he spoke, having studied everything about CF he could get his hands on. He never doubted that if they could come up with approaches to help patients with CF, so could he. He was dauntless.

I began to realize, contrary to my first emotional reaction to Richard, that if my son turned out to be half the man that Richard was, I would be enormously proud of him. Richard led a full life, had many friends, conquered new heights (literally--he climbed the tallest mountain in Utah Valley), and constantly expanded his mind and his soul. The essay he wrote about why he was grateful he was born, and not aborted, was one of the most moving pieces of prose that I have ever read. Richard was a great soul.

Because he loved the Lord, he wanted to serve a mission. Health prevented him from serving the usual mission that LDS boys undertake. But he worked in northern Utah with the mission president there. While living with his grandfather there, he picked up mold from the basement apartment. His health quickly deteriorated. He went into the hospital, was given a blessing to obey his doctors (!), and finally agreed to be ventilated. Two weeks later, as they were trying to bring him off the ventilator and out of unconsciousness, he took two breaths and he passed away. He had just turned 23. His mother told me that as this was happening, she felt a whoosh of joy that she interpreted as the joy Richard felt in passing and embracing his loved ones beyond the veil.

Before his death, Richard promised me that if he ever did pass to the other side, he would send something that would help my firstborn with CF. He kept his promise. And I have no doubt that heaven is a much livelier place now, because Richard is debating all the great minds of history. I am so glad I got to know him here on earth. He is my inspiration!