By Brittany Maroney
Photos by Claudia Johnstone
Angela Christensen has always been a positive, glass half-full type of girl – a belief that her parents instilled in her and one she has carried throughout her life. In 2005, she married Colby Christensen and was later blessed with a perfect little boy and then girl. When they found out they were pregnant again, they were thrilled.
Once her third child was born, Christensen felt like she had the whole world in the palms of her hands. One day, her eight-day-old daughter lay snoozing and her two other children were playing outside. Life seemed sweet. Feeling euphoric, she buzzed around the house picking up toys and wiping down counters.
Then the phone rang, and Christensen heard the news that would shatter the next year of her life. Little baby Callie’s blood work had indications of cystic fibrosis. Upon hearing the news, Christensen collapsed to the floor.
“I would describe the first year as solid darkness. I had carried the notion my entire existence that life is what you make it, and if something isn’t what you want it to be, change it,” Christensen says. “But here we were. Something just got dumped into our world that we had absolutely no control over. What now?”
Cystic fibrosis is a life threatening, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. A child with cystic fibrosis has a defective gene that affects the movement of sodium chloride, causing a thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. Currently, there are more than 30,000 sufferers of the disease in the U.S. and the life expectancy is only 37 1/2 years.
Christensen and her family had little time to digest this diagnosis before the all-consuming treatments started. Little Callie needs twice daily, 30-minute chest percussion therapy to manually move mucus from her lungs, followed by a nebulized breathing treatment. Callie also began taking digestive enzyme pills with food because her body alone cannot digest food. She has a surgical gastronomy tube that feeds her all night while she sleeps, as well as pumps extra food into her tummy after every meal. They also visit Phoenix Children’s Hospital monthly to check her vitals and, unfortunately, these visitations will increase as Callie ages.
“Initially, it is was really hard, but gradually something beautiful shifted in every one of us,” Christensen says. “We all appreciate the little moments so much more and realize how life is truly a gift. We snuggle more, play more and giggle more. It’s not easy every day, but it made us a closer family and better people.”
When Callie was six months old, her siblings, Zach and Tessa, decided to put up a lemonade stand in front of the house. Instead of charging for the lemonade, they taped a picture of Callie to a can and asked for donations. Angela and her husband joined them outside and talked with neighbors about the intention to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Within an hour they had raised $50.
“After all the hours at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the kids and I wanted to have a bigger impact with our lemonade stand. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When Callie was diagnosed, life gave [us] lemons, and even though we cannot control what comes with it, we can control what we do next.”
Now, Christensen and her children set up their “Life Gave Lemons” lemonade stand at different events around the Valley. They collect money for various nonprofits, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and share their message of strength and unity.
They have also created a spin-off clothing line for Life Gave Lemons (Christensen formerly owned a girls’ fashion line, Never Nola).
“Every single design is inspired by a diagnosis or experience, and every sale raises research funds for the cause it rallies for,” Christensen says. “Our goal with each design is to be playful, light and maybe even make you laugh, all while spreading a bigger message of empowerment. Our fabrics are amazing, and the shirts are cut to be flattering.”
Despite her illness, Callie remains the darling of the Christensen family. They call her pure sunshine, with a laugh that is contagious.
“We hope to give inspiration and hope – that life can be happy and whole – to other families that are struggling with a diagnosis or disease,” Christensen says. “We want to lift people up! With our new shirts, we hope to make people laugh at a hard thing, and to continue to raise money with our stand in an effort to improve the quality of life for those that were given ‘lemons.’”
To request a Life Gave Lemons booth at an event or to check out the merchandise, visit www.lifegavelemons.com.