Jim Brower’s daughter, Landry, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis shortly after her birth in 2007, and in the ensuing decade he and his wife Jessica have become increasing involved in the push for a CF cure.
As the Mariners’ assistant pitching coach, Jim Brower is often immersed in numbers, the ever-growing array of statistics and rates and angles that inform evaluation and instruction in the modern game.
But it is another number, a chilling one, that informs and energizes his life away from the ballpark. Brower’s daughter, Landry, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis shortly after her birth in 2007, and in the ensuing decade he and his wife Jessica have become increasing involved in the push for a CF cure.
While Landry, now 10, is a happy, thriving child, it’s still somewhat of a race to accelerate what have been remarkable advancements in the field of CF research.
“As a parent with a child living with CF, I tend to push,’’ Brower said. “Because when your child has a life-expectancy number put on her right from the start … No one knows when they’re going to go, but you usually don’t start with a number.”
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Brower’s passion regarding CF became fortuitous when reliever Marc Rzepcynski, who was to have been the host for the 33rd annual Mariners Care Golf Tournament to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on Monday, was released three weeks ago. Brower agreed to become the main spokesman for the event at Broadmoor Golf Club, and both Jessica and Landry – who arrived in Seattle this week from their home in Minnesota after school ended — will speak as well Monday.
When Brower interviewed with Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto for his newly created position during the offseason, he noticed a display about the CF golf tournament as he was leaving Safeco Field. That’s when Brower, 45, who had a nine-year pitching career in the majors as well as stints in Japan and Italy, knew he had found the right place.
The event, which has raised $5.9 million for CF research since its inception in 1986, has always been a staple of the Mariners’ charitable focus. Pitcher Matt Young was the first player host, and since then an array of players has been involved. Jay Buhner was a particular stalwart, serving as host from 1992-2004 (with Randy Johnson, Jeff Nelson and Raul Ibanez as his co-hosts at various times).
Few, however, bring the intimate knowledge that Brower has of living with CF – a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. The good news is that the life-expectancy number has steadily risen. In the 1950s, a child with CF rarely lived long enough to attend elementary school. Now the median predicted survival age is close to 40, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Landry just finished fourth grade, and is fluent in Spanish as a result of being in her school’s Spanish Immersion Program. When her dad worked in the Royals’ organization, she loved to practice her language skills on Latin players like Jorge Bonifacio and the late Yordano Ventura. She would often serve as a bat girl in the minor leagues, and her positive attitude awes her parents. Though shy with newcomers, Landry is effusive and theatrical once she feels comfortable.
“She’s awesome. She has an unbelievable spirit,’’ Brower said. “She’ll say, ‘Dad, everybody has something at some point. One of my friends has hearing aids.’ That’s the way she treats it, and that’s the way we treat it.”
But life with a child with CF is one of constant challenges, especially in the early years, when parents are understandably frightened of the unknown. They must learn a variety of treatments, starting with tapping the chest of the newborn baby to help open the lungs. Landry gets up early each morning for vest treatment, which involves wearing something akin to a vibrating life vest that helps her breathe. She inhales medicine through a nebulizer up to four times a day to help fight lung infections. She takes enzymes with every meal that break down the food in her stomach to counteract deficiencies in her pancreas that prevent her from taking in nutrients.
The result is an active child (though easily winded), living as normal a life as possible. The medical advancements in CF have been staggering. The analogy Brower uses is that it used to be like shooting baskets in a darkened arena – you just hope the shots went in, but you had no direction.
“The lights are on now,’’ he said. “We know where the basket is. We’re at half-court, but those basketballs are expensive. That’s where the funding comes in, and that’s where great events like this golf tournament come in.”
Being a CF parent, Brower says, means being constantly vigilant. Every cough is a cause for concern. You must work to control hand-washing and exposure to people with illnesses. Every meal must be planned. Traveling can be an ordeal.
“Everything is a process,’’ he said. “There is no just nice and easy. You have to pay attention to all the little things, because little things are what, over time, will cause the issues. It can be, not overwhelming, but hard.”
Brower isn’t complaining, mind you. He and Jessica are hopeful that the advancements in CF research will one day lead to a cure. Until then, they will keep fighting, with their own daughter and the 30,000 people living with CF in the United States in mind.
“We have to keep her lungs open and 100 percent lung function as long as possible,’’ he said. “It’s a slow squeeze. That’s where we feel a little bit of pressure to get the word out and get the awareness, but also the funding.”