Angela Popoff knew nothing about cystic fibrosis – until she met her sister.
Popoff was 19. Julie Bowers, the sister she had never met, was 14. They found each other in a BC Children’s Hospital room where Julie was surrounded by a group of friends.
“Which one of you is Julie?” Popoff remembers calling out. “I’m your sister.”
Their time together was short, but today in her White Rock restaurants Popoff is keeping Julie’s memory alive by giving to a cause she grew to know all too well.
Popoff grew up in an adoptive home. In her late teens she started researching family history and found an online post from a man looking for the daughter he gave up for adoption. It was her birth father.
Popoff learned she had two sisters. Neither lived in the Lower Mainland, but one of them, Julie, happened to be in Vancouver at the time – to receive treatment for effects of cystic fibrosis. Popoff decided to surprise her with a visit.
“She was such a loving girl,” Popoff said, remembering how Julie threw her arms around her the first time they met. “That’s my best memory of her – just the surprise on her face, and how excited she was to finally meet me. She grew up knowing about me, just as I grew up knowing I had been adopted.”
One of every 3,600 children is born with cystic fibrosis. Julie, born in Kamloops on Dec. 17, 1984, happened to be one of them. She was diagnosed at 18 months, and despite regular extended hospital stays, graduated high school in 2002.
Cystic fibrosis is a fatal genetic disease that attacks the digestive system and lungs. Its severity varies, but ongoing infection in the lungs eventually leads to death in the majority of sufferers, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Canada charity.
Popoff made the most of her short relationship with Julie. They lived in different cities, and there were days when Julie was too sick to hang out. But on the good days the sisters would talk, visit, go to hockey games, dine out, have fun at the Pacific National Exhibition.
“We grew close quickly,” said Popoff, now 37. “She was so bubbly and so friendly.”
Today, customers at Pearl Bistro and Oyster Bar – the Marine Drive eatery Popoff owns with husband Nicholas Popoff – will see Julie’s name on the new menu describing a charitable initiative. Pearl is donating 50 cents from every pour of Parallel 49 beer to Cystic Fibrosis Canada, which the brewing company also supports. The couple’s other White Rock restaurant, ONYX Steak Seafood Bar, will soon do the same.
Money invested in research has led to “outstanding progress,” according to Cystic Fibrosis Canada. There is a much greater understanding of the disease than ever before and a much longer life expectancy for many of those who have it. Half of all Canadians with cystic fibrosis today are expected to live into their early 50s and beyond, and nearly 60 per cent of all people with cystic fibrosis are adults. In the 1960s, most children with the disease didn’t live long enough to attend kindergarten.
Julie died in 2005 due to complications of the disease. She was 20.
Popoff still remembers her smile – and her laugh.
“The one word that would describe Julie would be inspirational.
“When I’m having a bad day even from the moment I met her till now, I just think of how she fought through that disease and how she was always smiling and wanting to be with family and friends.”