CF survivor spreads hope

Bilateral lung transplant recipient to take part in ‘Great Strides’ — a fundraiser for a cure for cystic fibrosis

CF survivor spreads hopeBy CHRISTINA MACGREGOR

News Review Correspondent

“Keep the faith and never stop. Never, ever give up.”

Breeann Jaramillo’s words are heartfelt and unwavering — and she speaks from experience that encompasses both the tough times and the beautiful moments in life.

Jaramillo moved to Ridgecrest in 2008 to live with her sister. Breeann met her husband Jered Jaramillo a month later. Now — more than a decade later — she lives here with her husband and two children, 5-year-old Gavin and 3-year-old Jade. Working and schooling her children from home keeps her busy, but she says she doesn’t mind.

“Most of us CFers are feisty and stubborn and hard-headed go-getters who don’t stop. I haven’t met one who is really lazy yet.”

CF stands for cystic fibrosis, and has been a constant companion since Jaramillo was diagnosed at six months old.

CF is a hereditary disease that usually appears in early childhood. It affects the body’s ability to make mucus, which helps organs and systems work. Instead of the thin, slippery form of mucus, CF can cause the substance to be thick and glue-like — blocking tubes and ducts throughout the body.

Mucus can build up over time and impair the ability to breathe, increase the risk of infection caused by trapped germs and even yield severe lung damage. More than 30,000 people in the U.S. have cystic fibrosis, and doctors find about 1,000 new cases every year.

Individuals are often diagnosed with CF after doing a sweat test, but Breeann’s story is a little different.

“I wasn’t digesting my food as a baby, so I looked like a pregnant child with a potbelly and had really bad pains,” explained Jaramillo. Her parents could tell by her crying that something was not right. As she got older, she developed breathing difficulties.

“I have the gastrointestinal issue with CF and I have the lung issue. Some CFers can have just the lung issue or just the GI, but I have both.”

Those challenges did not keep Jaramillo from maintaining a positive outlook.

“As a child, it was hard to keep up with other kids. I wasn’t really able to play sports. I pretty much only did pee wee baseball and then I couldn’t keep up with running, and so they had to take me out. I’d say playing hide-and-go-seek, [but] if I wanted to chase the other person, I always lost. Stuff like that just kept me behind. As a mid-high schooler, I played tennis, and that was the only sport that didn’t require a lot of running. So I was able to do that.”

Other than that, she said she had a normal life.

As an adult, she experienced similar ups and downs. The challenges that come with motherhood took a particular toll. “That was when my health really declined.”

When Jered and Breeann met in 2008, she was at 65- percent lung capacity. Before her transplant, she was down to 14-percent lung capacity.

After she got sick multiple times at a couple of different jobs, doctors recommended that she take a break from work and wait. The wait was not an easy one, and it was not until two or three years later that she was considered a candidate for a lung transplant.

“Even when you are sick and you are dying, they literally tell you you have to be sicker and dying even more in order to be on the transplant list.” So she continued to wait. But in the meantime, “There’s no coming back from the damage. It’s not reversible at all.”

She said the way she explains her situation to her young niece and nephew “is if you think of an apple and a worm eating that apple, those pieces of apple never come back. They are always deteriorating and being eaten away.”

Jaramillo was finally called into surgery, but even then there was no guarantee for the transplant she desperately needed.

“When you get there for the call, you could be hooked up to everything. You could be prepped for surgery, you could be on the metal table and then they could say, ‘No, it’s a no-go. Go home. Come back another time when you get another call.’ Thankfully I only had one dry run. I was 20 minutes from the hospital and they said that I wasn’t going to be in time.”

Then, on Dec. 30, 2018, Jaramillo finally had her transplant — a double-lung from the same donor.

Now, as she turns 32, Jaramillo is extremely thankful for her life. She doesn’t take things for granted —especially her new lungs.

“It’s beautiful. It’s magical. It’s amazing,” she said of her new lease on life. “It’s a miracle — it’s just freaking amazing.”

Jaramillo no longer has to do the breathing treatments morning and night, as many who suffer from CF do. She is grateful for that.

But she still has to monitor carefully for infection, and seek medical treatment in the event of one. And her treatment regimen still requires between 20 and 25 pills a day — a mix of immuno-suppressants, steroids, antibiotics, antifungals, anti-rejections and tons of vitamins.

“We are really susceptible to growing certain fungus that are grown in certain bacterias. I can’t be around mold —even fruit mold. If you have a Hansen’s juice can and there is a little bit of juice left and it molds, that is really bad for me — small little things that you wouldn’t even think of.”

She also explained a simple way that anyone can help those with CF — stay home if you are sick. The mild inconvenience to the individual could end up saving the life of someone like Jaramillo.

Jaramillo’s journey now includes giving back by supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation through participation in the Ridgecrest Cystic Fibrosis Great Strides Walk, set this year for Saturday, Dec. 7, at 10 a.m. at the Cerro Coso Community College track and field.

The average lifespan for those with CF is 37 years, and medical breakthroughs have caused that number to slowly increase over years. The funds raised from the walks help with CF research, education and family support, among other things.

“It’s like any other disease — people want awareness, especially with the seriously deadly ones.” She said that in the case of progressive diseases that will eventually kill you, she tries to consider it from the perspective of awareness she would want to raise if her child carried the diagnosis.

For more information about the local event, see RidgecrestGreatStrides.org.

Pictured: Breeann and Jered Jaramillo with their children, Gavin and Jade. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2019-11-15