"Defying the odds with every breath"
Written By Stu Opperman
The specter of death has been a constant companion for nearly all of Linda Bowman’s 48 years. At the age of three, doctors hit Linda’s parents with a devastating prognosis: “Your child has a genetic condition,” they reported, “and likely won’t live to see her 9th birthday.”
That disease, cystic fibrosis (CF), attacks the lungs and digestive system with unusually thick, sticky mucus and has a daunting reputation for taking its victims young. By the time she was a teenager, struggling with the self-esteem issues most go through at that age, Linda carried the added burden of being told her life would probably be over by 18. “The life expectancy issue was huge,” she says now, with obvious understatement of the years that featured CF-related juvenile diabetes, numerous hospital stays, and an admittedly “haphazard” lifestyle. “I didn’t follow CF protocol or take care of myself. I just wanted to be a ‘regular’ teenager. I didn’t know what life was supposed to be about, and assumed I wouldn’t have the time to figure it out,” Linda says.
CF robbed Linda of the college experience. She dropped out after constant digestive and pulmonary issues, which led to depression and a feeling she “couldn’t compete.” However, the disease seemed to go looking for an easier mark in the years that followed. Linda also took a more aggressive stand against cystic fibrosis during her mid-20’s, prioritizing exercise, nutrition, and holistic practices into a daily regimen that improved her life.
Today, Linda continues to fight the good fight and keep a positive attitude. New drugs, inhaler therapies, CF care centers, and a commitment to research by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) (www.cff.org) have saved others from the same deadlines Linda faced. However, additional resources are still needed to find a cure. That’s why the Boca Raton resident is committed to the AT&T Jeb Bush Florida Classic (www.jebcf.org), a multi-event fundraiser chaired annually by the former Florida governor that has generated approximately $4.5 million for CFF since 1996.
Linda has shared her experiences with event attendees, something she believes is her calling. “God has chosen me to convey this message and it is my responsibility to give those who haven’t been touched by the disease a window into our world. It’s a physical and emotional roller coaster every day. We’re literally fighting for our lives, but I’m happy if hearing my story gives a clearer picture of the reality of CF,” Linda says.
Approximately 1,100 people in Florida face a daily struggle to breathe and break down and absorb food, since the mucus they produce clogs the lungs and obstructs the pancreas. CF is a particularly insidious disease, with its sufferers never quite sure what tomorrow will bring or whether there will be a tomorrow at all.
“Linda is an inspiration to all of us committed to beating this disease,” says Chris Landshut, Executive Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s South Florida office. “She’s a living, breathing example of what is possible and a role model for younger CF patients who are empowered seeing she is not in a wheelchair or on oxygen. Linda provides hope.”
Linda says she is optimistic for the next generation of cystic fibrosis sufferers. The defective gene that causes CF was identified in 1989 and life expectancy has doubled in the past 25 years. Yet she is uncomfortable with the plight of others her age and beyond. “Lots of older people are really suffering and dying, but still aren’t seen as sick enough to qualify for transplants. It is a huge problem we’re facing. Our fight doesn’t get nearly the headlines. Other issues do simply because there aren’t that many of us,” Linda says.
Meanwhile, more than 45 years after doctors first projected the end point of her life and a decade past the median age of survival for those with cystic fibrosis, Linda Bowman continues to live on the clock. – DUO