Stacy M. Danko, a retired registered nurse who was also a longtime cystic fibrosis survivor and a spokeswoman for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, died Friday of complications from the chronic disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The North Baltimore resident was 44.
"Stacy's life was defined by her courage in dealing with the challenges of cystic fibrosis. She represented hope and optimism and the fact that hope sometimes is truly the best medicine," Dr. Robert J. Beall, president and chief executive officer of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, said yesterday.
"She never let CF get her down. She went on to college and became a nurse. She married and had a family, and in doing so became a role model for others. She lived against the odds and beat them, until the end," he said.
"She was an important person for us. She enthusiastically embraced all aspects of her life, and her example of joyful living will remain her legacy to all who were touched by her courageous spirit," Dr. Beall said.
Stacy Marie Burke was born in Baltimore and raised on Brandon Road in Rodgers Forge.
She was one of four children - three were born with cystic fibrosis. Her sister died at age 8. Her eldest brother, now 45, underwent a double-lung transplant several years ago and is living a normal life.
Another brother, 43, did not have the disease but has been identified as a carrier.
Mrs. Danko was 6 months old when she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Doctors told her parents, who divorced when she was 3, that it was unlikely their daughter would live beyond 18.
In an interview with the Johns Hopkins Cystic Fibrosis Center last year, Mrs. Danko attributed her matter-of-fact attitude about her cystic fibrosis to her mother's unwillingness to dwell on the disease that afflicted her children or to treat them differently.
"It may have been a coping mechanism for the loss of my sister, but it allowed me to grow up feeling as though I was no different than any other child," she said. "I did get more attention when it came to eating, exercising, or dealing with the heat, but since the rest of my life was so normal, I paid little attention to other people's concerns."
She added: "I was able to play sports, go on overnights and go away to college."
In 1970, she and her brother John were selected as poster children by the Maryland chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
"The experience allowed me to turn something bad into something good. It also allowed me to deal with strangers, and not be ashamed of having CF," Mrs. Danko said in the Hopkins interview.
"The cough is enough to make anyone stare and wonder, but I'd always say, 'I'm OK. I have a lung disease that makes me cough,' " she said.
After graduating from Notre Dame Preparatory School in 1982, she earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from what is now Salisbury University in 1986.
For the next decade, Mrs. Danko worked as a nurse in solid tumor oncology and as a neuro critical care nurse before leaving to become the school nurse at Gilman School.
From 1998 to last year, when she retired on a medical disability, she was a nurse with the Maryland Department of Risk Management.
Mrs. Danko devoted her life to helping others who suffer from cystic fibrosis.
Former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his wife, Kendel Ehrlich, were friends of Mrs. Danko's.
"It's an incredibly sad day. Bob and I were very close to her, and we got involved in working in cystic fibrosis because of Stacy. We were committed because of her, and we'll stay committed," Mrs. Ehrlich said yesterday.
"She became a beacon of hope for so many people because she had been healthy for such an incredibly long time," she said. "Stacy meant so much to so many families. Her death is such a blow and will affect so many people."
Bob Saunders, whose daughter Jennifer Saunders, 30, has cystic fibrosis, has been on the board of the Maryland chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for three decades.
"She was a mentor to my daughter and an inspiration to my family. She was always very optimistic and never gave up," Mr. Saunders said. "She's best described by a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: 'It's not length of life, but depth of life.' "
Josie Schaeffer, also an old friend, is executive director of the Maryland chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
"Despite a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis that often tried her endurance, Stacy dedicated her life to the well-being and happiness of others," Ms. Schaeffer said. "She was relentlessly cheerful, irrepressibly energetic and uniformly optimistic."
According to Ms. Schaeffer, Mrs. Danko "became the face of cystic fibrosis," as she crisscrossed the state speaking to "intimate groups, crowded ballrooms and television viewers."
She added: "She left audiences laughing and crying. Most importantly, she moved them to act, to join the battle, to make her cause their cause. To do so, not for her, but for the children. To change the future. To save lives."
Edward St. John had been a friend of Mrs. Danko's since 1997.
"In a lifetime, there are certain people who make a lasting impact on you. Stacy Danko was one of those individuals," Mr. St. John said.
Regarding her work with cystic fibrosis, Mr. St. John said, "She fought for funding so that the babies and children diagnosed with this dreaded disease would benefit from new advancements made through the research being conducted."
Frank Deford, senior writer for Sports Illustrated and a National Public Radio commentator, is the author of Alex: The Life of a Child.
In 2004, Mr. Deford presented the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Alex Award to Mrs. Danko for "demonstrating great courage while battling the disease."
Mr. Deford endowed the award, which is given annually in memory of his daughter, Alex Deford, who died of the disease in 1980 at age 8.
Mrs. Danko was also a longtime board member of the Maryland chapter of the organization.
"Because of my CF, the little things in life don't bother me, and my appreciation for everything good is magnified," Mrs. Danko said in the Hopkins interview.
When she wasn't engaged with cystic fibrosis voluntarism, she enjoyed watching her children's sporting events, riding her motorcycle and attending auctions, where she looked for antiques.
Mrs. Danko was a communicant of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Roman Catholic Church, 20 E. Ridgely Road in Timonium, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Surviving are a son, Paul J. Danko Jr., 17; two daughters, Molly C. Danko, 13, and Bridget B. Danko, 11; her father, John P. Burke Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla.; her mother, Constance Logsdon Kammar, and stepfather, Ted Kammar of Lutherville; two brothers, Brian Burke of Lutherville and John P. Burke III of Sykesville; a half-brother, Michael Burke of Baltimore; and a half-sister, Tice Burke of San Francisco. Her marriage to Paul J. Danko Sr. ended in divorce.