Borrowed Time

The body Brooke Sterling works so hard to love was built to kill her

"I was on this waiting list, and I was thinking about when this pager was going to go off," he says. "That's pretty much all you think about. That and your next breath."

After two years, the pager did go off. Jordan, Kim and Walter flew to Stanford on Air Evac. Just as the anesthesiologist was about to put Jordan out, there came some bad news. The donor lungs were infected with valley fever. They were useless.

After the false alarm, it was another year before the pager went off again.

Brooke offers encouragement as her class works through the 26 Bikram yoga poses.
Giulio Sciorio
Brooke offers encouragement as her class works through the 26 Bikram yoga poses.

During that time, in November 2000, Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer. She remembers driving home the day of her seventh radiation treatment, thinking about dinner — she had a date with Jordan that night and was planning to make his favorite meal: pork chops, rice and peas. Her cell phone rang. It was Jordan. His pager had just gone off.

This time it was not a false alarm.

"There was no dinner that night," Kim says.

Five and a half hours after he entered surgery, Jordan's damaged lungs were gone, and inside his chest cavity were the 100 percent healthy lungs of a 25-year-old Chinese law student, dead from a head trauma hours earlier.

But Jordan's struggle didn't end on the operating table.

Doyle says that many transplant patients, including Jordan, who now says he feels like he no longer has CF, might view the procedure as a cure — but it is still a lifetime medical commitment.

"They have to view this not as a cure, but as a treatment that is going to be life-changing," she says. "They can't just come in and get new lungs and that's it. They have to have a lifetime adherence to a complicated medical regimen. After the transplant, being a transplanted patient is a full-time job."

Today, Jordan says his life just follows a routine. His lung functioning stays around 100 percent, and since he's passed the five-year mark, his chances for rejection are low — as long as he sticks to his daily regimen of pills.

According to Doyle, because Jordan has passed the five-and-a-half-year mark, his chances for survival are extremely good, and it's possible he could live to normal life expectancy.

Jordan's becoming a successful home mortgage broker. He's got the GQ outfits, the BlackBerry, a girlfriend — he's living the life he wanted in college.

"I got my ass kicked for nine to 12 months. It definitely wasn't easy, but it sure is easy now, I'll tell you that," he says. "My life is simple now."

By the time Jordan was recovering successfully from his transplant, the simple act of breathing had become more complicated for Brooke. With mucus clogging her lungs, the act of getting enough oxygen into her body was a painful task rather than a no-brainer. On bad days, she consciously had to think about each coming breath, counting and planning each step.

When she inhales on a bad day, the sensation is one of a gigantic clamp around her torso. Unable to expand or contract her lungs freely, she has to pause often, her body working overtime to get enough oxygen into her lungs through the mucus inside them.

Most disturbing for Brooke, for whom digestion was always the biggest challenge, she was no longer able to hold weight. In fact, she was losing it rapidly, dropping 10 pounds from her already slight frame in about a month. Without digestive enzymes to help her break down and process food, Brooke says her body would reject food in a "sort of slow and gruesome experience, mimicking food poisoning but without the vomiting."

As her body was breaking down, Brooke says she couldn't shake the feeling that the way she was approaching her disease was wrong, that she didn't want to spend her life pumped full of antibiotics.

"If there was any way to keep my system strong enough to avoid that, I would rather put in an enormous amount of hours than go on what is essentially permanent antibiotic therapy. I felt unsure of my body's ability to tolerate those antibiotics over time," she says.

At this point in her life, Brooke was practicing yoga religiously, having started when she was 18 and becoming progressively more interested in the elements behind the exercise and Eastern philosophy and thought.

She went from feeling uncertain about antibiotic therapy to dead set against it about 10 years ago while battling a raging lung infection. She was following a home IV antibiotic regimen, having refused hospitalization, and began to notice it was hard to keep her balance, odd for a woman who had practiced yoga for the past decade. The next time a home nurse came to check the IV, Brooke mentioned the situation and was told inner ear problems were a normal side effect of the drug and there was a slight possibility she could lose her hearing.

"I stopped the regimen that night," she says. "It was one of those moments of confirmation where everything that you think or have thought for a really long time all of a sudden clicks in your mind. I had enough data to know that these treatments are not the route for me, so I started to shift naturopathically."

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Dino D
Dino D

RIP Jordan, I didn't know you well, but I knew you. May angels lift you safely to the heavens.

Dino D
Dino D

RIP Jordan. I didn't know you well, but I knew you. May angels lift you safely to the heavens.

Harry Thompson
Harry Thompson

Do you have an email address for Terry Greene Sterling?

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