Hilton Head Island native chronicles life with cystic fibrosis in 'Breathe' at Main Street Youth Theatre

Hilton Head Island native Brennen Reeves will perform "Breathe. A True Story" on Dec. 19 and 20 at Main Street Youth Theatre on Hilton Head.
Hilton Head Island native Brennen Reeves will perform "Breathe. A True Story" on Dec. 19 and 20 at Main Street Youth Theatre on Hilton Head. Submitted photo

For Hilton Head Island native Brennen Reeves, an easily taken breath is something to celebrate.

So is walking up a flight of stairs without getting winded.

And playing a game of pingpong without needing an oxygen tank.

For years, something as simple as inhaling was difficult for Reeves, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child. The incurable disease affects his mucus glands and lungs. It is frequently fatal. When Reeves attended Hilton Head Island High School, doctors told him he wouldn't live long enough to graduate.

Thanks to a double lung transplant, however, Reeves graduated from high school in 2009 and then College of Charleston's theater program in May.

Now the 23-year-old is chronicling his journey dealing with illness in the form of a one-man show titled "Breathe. A True Story," to be performed Dec. 19 and 20 at the Main Street Youth Theatre on Hilton Head.

"My main focus is to just reveal what a sub-normal life is. Where normal is nothing but a word," Reeves said. "Being born with this disease, being sick is all you know. That's normal to you."

In the show, Reeves reveals what it was like growing up with cystic fibrosis and how he dealt with its limitations.

He describes scenes of his brother going off to baseball camp while he went to a cystic fibrosis camp, and wanting to play sports but realizing his disease didn't allow it.

Theater became an outlet.

His first big role was playing the lead in Hilton Head High's production of "Footloose," where the director and choreographer worked to ensure Reeves had enough breaks to catch his breath between lines and dancing.

With his new lungs, acting and dancing is much easier, but the role in "Breathe" is one of the most challenging yet, because Reeves isn't acting. He's being himself.

"It's scary. I'm not playing a character. This is my own personal experience," he said.

Reeves was inspired to share his story after receiving encouragement from David Lee Nelson, one of his theater professors at CofC. Nelson co-wrote and directs the show.

Reeves said he hopes he can perform "Breathe" for other theaters in the future, while continuing to work in the admissions office at CofC.

And of course, there's also the hope for continuing health. Only about 50 percent of cystic fibrosis patients with double lung transplants live more than five years post-surgery, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

"I'm at four years right now. There was no promise of survival," Reeves said.

But that doesn't mean he's not optimistic.

"I don't live every day like it's my last day. I don't say that," he said. "I just live every day like it's today."

Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin Shaw.


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