Robbie Woliver

Alphabet Kids

Singing sisters with cystic fibrosis and a dream steal the show on 'America's Got Talent'

The power of hope and a dream helps two sick sisters achieve their dream.

Posted Jun 24, 2010

Christina and Ali are sisters from Portland, Oregon, who share a love for music, and a deadly disease.

Despite their battle with the genetic lung disorder, cystic fibrosis, they managed to belt their songs out loud and clear on this week's America's Got Talent, and this time, it turned out it was the audience's breath that was taken away.

The sisters, 13 and 20, are lucky to be alive, let alone be able to sing powerful notes, but they are typical of young people, Alphabet Kids, around the world, who have a dream, a goal, hope, and use those powerful psychological tools to fight adverse conditions like illness.

The two sang Miley Cyrus' "The Climb," an inspirational song that made their performance all that more authentic.

"There's always gonna be another mountain," they sang, "I'm always gonna want to make it move."

The average life expectancy for those with CF is mid-30s, and only 47 percent survive to reach 18 years or older. Sticky mucus builds up in the lung, blocking the airways and making the child prone to many life-threatening infections. It also affects the pancreas, causing the CF sufferer to not properly digest her food. So how do you fight the odds?

"I love to sing," Christina, the youger sister, told the TV audience, "You are in a totally different world." And that ability to transcend one's problems is a strong asset that can redirect a child's energy to help battle an illness.

Hope is a powerful source of energy, and energy can heal. Real neurochemical changes occur. It can set-off a placebo effect where the patient will improve because he has the expectation of improvement. Studies have shown that a sugar pill placebo can set off a release of dopamine in a Parkinson patient's brain, and most mental health and medical professionals believe that a positive attitude will help improve a patient's physical condition. With the promise to achieve a goal, like singing before a national audience, combined with the general belief that you will get better, neurotransmitters such as endorphins and enkephalins are released into the body and can disconnect the patient from his or her pain. Without pain, the patient is able to heal better and the positive cycle continues.

For Christina and Ali, the dream of making it to the finals of a reality TV show obliterate the actual reality that they might only have years to live. And they, in turn, inspire the viewers, making their climb a very healthy journey for all of us.

So in honor of Ali and Christina fighting the ravages of the CF, and all the Alphabet Kids who need encouragement, I am inaugurating the "Alphabet Kids" Psychology Today blog with the promise of hope.

To see a video of Ali and Christina discussing their situation and singing, click here.

Alphabet Kids: A Guide to Developmental, Neurobiological and Psychological Disorders for Parents and Professionals:

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