Kinesiology professor Paula van Wyk never intended to become a social media influencer.
But when her son Jack was born with cystic fibrosis 11 months ago, Dr. van Wyk saw her Instagram account as a way to raise awareness of the disease. As she would post photos and videos of Jack’s daily routines, the CF community and beyond were smitten. Her posts routinely garner thousands of views, the most loved clocking in at 107,000 and counting.
Van Wyk and her baby recently caught the attention of the makers of the Sit Down Stand Out Show, a podcast about people with physical and mental challenges. Van Wyk appeared on the latest episode, released Wednesday.
Van Wyk spoke about her life with Jack and their social media presence.
“For me, it’s not the rush of getting likes and followers,” van Wyk explained. “It’s about building community. It’s about education and research.”
Van Wyk said when her first child was born, she was intentionally sparing about what she posted about him on social media. Then, when Jack came along, she felt the need to advocate for him and children like him. Instagram seemed a natural fit.
“I’m not trying to exploit him in any way. I’m just trying to make things better.”
About 5,000 Canadians have cystic fibrosis, an inherited condition in which a faulty protein affects the digestive system and lungs, among other organs.
Van Wyk’s posts include videos of Jack using the nebulizer that helps him clear his lungs of mucous. She offers up information on the enzymes that help him digest the fats in food. The videos of Jack reaching developmental milestones like eating his first solids and taking his first steps offer hope to other CF families.
While many of van Wyk’s posts are not unlike other pictures of cute babies, the details are in the hashtags. With each post, van Wyk uses a string of them— #CFWarrior, #CFNutrition, #InvisibleIllness, and more.
It’s those hashtags that allowed Benen Dykstra, a.k.a. the Rolling Dragon, to find van Wyk and invite her onto his podcast.
Dykstra asked about the day van Wyk learned Jack had CF, about their recent family trip to Mexico, and about her own self-care.
“I don’t know all the answers. I can only share my experiences,” van Wyk said. “If I can be a difference for someone else, I would love to be.”
Van Wyk’s Instagram account is @pvandubs.