Borrowed Time

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Jordan's margin closed much sooner.

In high school at Brophy Prep, Jordan's body was beginning to turn against him. He did manage to move away from home for college, but by the time he graduated from Santa Clara University in 1997, it was pretty clear Jordan was nearing death. While in school, he joined a fraternity, and admits he wanted to do everything his friends did, regardless of CF.

"I didn't want to let the disease get the best of me," he says. "I still wanted to have fun, and when you're 18, 19 years old, you do whatever the hell you want. You don't always listen to what people have to say about what's best for you."

By graduation, his lung functioning was at about 30 percent — imagine running a marathon with a gigantic metal clamp around your lungs and you get some idea of what it was like for Jordan to breathe through the mucus filling his damaged lungs. And he was only getting sicker.

Jordan was living within 40 miles of Stanford University, home to one of the premier pulmonary clinics in the country, and his medical team thought it was time for Jordan to consider a lung transplant.

Ramona Doyle, a doctor and medical professor at Stanford who worked with Jordan, would not speak specifically about Jordan's case, citing doctor-patient confidentiality, but says most patients who elect to go the transplant route know that realistically they have a life expectancy of less than two or three years without it. And after the procedure, there is an enormous risk of infection and rejection of the organs.

"The context in which we're having this conversation is that they're dying," she says of the patient.

Knowing he had no other option, Jordan decided to go for it.

"This was a very difficult decision, being 22 years old, where most of my friends were thinking about careers and traveling and girls and partying," he says. "It definitely made me grow up real fast."

He spent the next three years of his life in limbo, getting sicker, waiting for the pager the transplant center gave him to go off, signaling it had found him a donor.

"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.

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.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin