“Running” and “cystic fibrosis (CF)” aren’t often used in the same sentence—primarily because CF is a progressive disease that limits a person’s ability to breathe, and running is, well, running. But Brad Gardner of Spring Grove, Illinois, who was first diagnosed with CF at the age of 4 months, ran both cross country and track in high school.
He was able to stay relatively healthy until his junior year in college, when his condition deteriorated so that he could barely walk to class, much less run.
Yet Brad, 22, still managed to attend all his classes at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point that year. “I just took the elevator rather than taking the stairs,” he says. But since he’s a fisheries and water resources major, he has to spend lots of time outside and his classes are very physical. By the end of the school year, his doctors were recommending that he take the next year off. It was time for the next big step. He and his parents came to Madison to undergo testing at the UW Health Lung Transplant Program, and in October 2019, he was placed on the wait list for a new set of lungs.
By that time, he had gotten very sick and was in the hospital because his oxygen levels were quite low. The sicker a patient is, the higher he is on the list, and so Brad only had to wait six days for a set of lungs to become available. “Of course, the day I got the call was the day my mom wasn’t there,” he says. “I was a little bit overwhelmed, but my parents got out of work and came right away.”
Brad’s lung transplant was on October 15, 2019. He had to spend the next several months relearning how to be an active person again—for a few weeks, he was so weak he couldn’t even walk up the stairs. Over the course of the next year, he gradually built up his strength until he was ready to return to school in fall 2020.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic meant that school was very different from when he had last been there. Most of his classes are online now, and there are only six people in his one in-person class. He lives alone in an apartment, and when he’s not studying, he plays piano, draws and runs. He will graduate in May 2021 and hopes to find a job working for the Department of Natural Resources.
“I had a great experience with my transplant,” he says. “I can now run again, which feels really good. I can basically do whatever I want.”