Thursday, 2 p.m. "Moin," – regional short-form for good morning – echoes happily from the phone. That's right, in the north they say “Moin” all day. But Florian Lindschulten means it that way. “I'm on the night shift this week, now I've just got up.” Florian is 34 years old and works at RKW in Nordhorn as a process mechanic in extrusion. In 2004, he started his training in Nordhorn and has been working there ever since. So far, so normal. And just not. “I have cystic fibrosis,” says Florian.
Cystic fibrosis is a congenital metabolic disease. Around 8,000 people in Germany live with cystic fibrosis. In this hereditary disease, the formation of various body fluids is disturbed. The secretions of the lungs, pancreas and other organs are more viscous than in healthy people. The thick mucus clogs the small branches of the bronchi and the ducts of the internal organs, among other things. Breathing and digestion are particularly badly affected. In the course of the disease, the organs can work less and less. The cause of the disease are defects in the genetic make-up. It is therefore not curable. Time of diagnosis and severity of symptoms can vary widely from person to person. In many children, cystic fibrosis is massively noticeable from birth, in other cases it is only recognized later. The increased build-up of mucus in the lungs makes it easier for bacteria to settle and cause infection. Pneumonia or bronchial infections are therefore much more common than in those who are not affected. The disturbed salt balance in the lungs also hinders the body's immune system.
The statistical average life expectancy of people with cystic fibrosis is significantly below that of those not affected: In Germany, the average life expectancy of newborn boys in 2015 was 77 years and 9 months. The corresponding number for newborn girls was 82 years and 10 months. For a newborn child with cystic fibrosis, the average life expectancy is 53 years.
Fascinated by technology
Florian does not stop what sounds devastating. He is bursting with energy instead: “Everyone had advised me to have a quiet job in which I am not physically challenged. At first, I listened to the others too. But after a month in an office, I realized that this was absolutely not for me,“ he says. Job posting from RKW looking for trainees in process engineering sounded like it was the right thing - and it was. "I was physically very active as a child and I always did a lot of handicrafts, worked with my hands. Technology has always fascinated me." That is still true today. “I think it's great that I am able to run an extrusion line. That I manage to produce such complex and filigree films.” Florian's enthusiasm breaks through the phone. Every day is different, there are so many tasks and he is proud to be able to pursue them. At least almost everyone. “Yes, there is the limitation with the printing system. The solvents and printing colors develop fumes that are too dangerous for my lungs,”says Florian. This is no problem for his shift supervisor and his colleagues. “Right from the start, I was open about my illness, explaining to everyone that I am severely disabled and that I have certain limitations. However, that was and is not a problem for anyone.” Dealing with one another is always collegial, you help each other where you can anyway.
Florian only allows his illness to slow him down as much as is absolutely necessary. "There are a few routines that I've had to do all my life, including taking medication regularly, inhaling, and physiotherapy," he says. Sounds harmless, but it's tough: 25 tablets and inhale three times a day. “I don't know any other way,” says Florian with a laugh. Inhaling is important in clearing the viscous mucus from the lungs, and physical therapy helps relax and stretch the cramped chest and back muscles. In addition, there is a planned hospital stay every three months. He goes through various check-ups and receives intravenous antibiotics. Most of the time, shortly before this check-up, he feels pretty weak, but at the moment - the next pit stop is at the end of January - things are different: "I've been using a new medicament for a few months, so I'm way better than usual. I have this one time already gained over three kilos. That's sensational for me."
Pandemic as a high risk person
With his heavily affected and endangered lungs, Florian is one of the people at high risk in the current pandemic. During the first lockdown in the spring, his doctor pulled the emergency brake and put him on sick leave for several weeks. However, the health insurance company refused to extend it and after consulting the doctor, site manager and the shift supervisor, the company went back to work. "I use the secure FFP-2 – or N95 in the US – masks, and we have well-operating safety concepts in the site, and outside I avoid any risk as much as possible," says Florian.
In general, he goes to bat for his employer. “It was certainly not so convenient for RKW to hire me for this apprenticeship and this profession, despite all the state support that is available for it. But they help me with everything and have dealt positively with the unusual situation from the start. Neither bureaucracy nor anything else became an obstacle."
It is therefore a very important, personal concern for Florian to encourage young people with cystic fibrosis to pursue their own professional ideas and go their own way: “I'm so glad I didn't end up in an office. I've been working in my job for 18 years now, which no one previously wanted me to trust. But there are ways and support if you have a clear goal. The disease limits us, but modern therapies allow us to live a much more normal life than was possible a generation ago. So: trust yourself!"