Jordan Klima has to lug around a vest in a suitcase whenever she goes far from home. Not very convenient, considering it weighs about 40 pounds.
That’s been her normal for pretty much as long as she can remember. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was two years old, requiring her to jump through hoops to live as close to a normal life as possible.
There was a time when Klima, who moved to her third high school as a junior after her father got a new job, wanted to keep it all a secret from her Bloomer classmates. With time, her comfort level increased to the point where she was ready to share with her volleyball teammates.
On the Blackhawks’ first trip of the season, a bus ride to Whitewater, she laid everything out for her teammates. She even let the girls try out the vest, which sends out rapid bursts of air to loosen mucus from airway walls.
“It’s pretty mind boggling, to be honest,” Bloomer coach Liz Bohl said. “For myself and the other coaches that were there and the girls, it was very eye-opening. That’s when I finally understood.”
It’s important for her to share her life with those around her. Cystic fibrosis doesn’t define her, but it’s an important part of her story.
“It’s kind of like a severe asthma,” Klima said. “People with asthma don’t generally go out and join track or cross country, but it’s one of those things, like, hey, I’m out here doing this. People with asthma may might look at me and think, ‘If she can do it, I can too.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease which causes a mutation of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene, affecting the body’s ability to move chloride to the cell surface. Mucus in multiple organs, notably the lungs, gets thick and can cause clogs without the chloride attracting water to the cell surface.
More than 30,000 people are living with cystic fibrosis in the United States and more than 70,000 worldwide according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry.
Cystic fibrosis is an invisible illness. If Jordan wasn’t open with her classmates, many wouldn’t even know.
“You don’t know because she just does,” Bohl said. “She fits in and she does what she’s supposed to do.”
But behind the scenes, there’s a lot of work that goes into keeping her healthy.
Of course, there’s medications, inhalers and about an hour a day of respiratory therapy, which is what the vest is for. She needs about 4,800 calories a day and needs a high fat, salt and protein diet. That sometimes means extra trips to Dairy Queen or making sure there are extra packets of salt available in the school cafeteria. She goes to Minneapolis, home of some of the top CF doctors in the country, regularly.
The last piece of treatment, which makes her role on the Blackhawks so vital, is about an hour of cardiovascular exercise per day to clear the secretions.
“There’s those days where sports, you’re just like, not having it,” Klima said. “But I know that those athletics and that running and that training also helps with the CF and maintaining it.”
“Volleyball has really been the thing to keep her active,” said Spring Klima, Jordan’s mother. “If she had not worked hard and been able to stay in volleyball and been able to contribute and she had fallen out of a sport ... her health would not be where it is.”
Jordan’s memory of the early years is blurry, but Spring said they’d taken her to the hospital 13 or 14 times before her diagnosis. She had a serious lung infection and a collapsed lung and weighed 18 pounds, about the size of a six month old.
“The nurse practitioner that we saw many times actually called social services on us and reported us for not feeding her,” Spring said.
It was clear something was wrong. What exactly was still up in the air.
“They did a whole bunch of tests,” Spring said. “It took them 11 days to figure out what it was.”
There is currently no cure to CF and, while medical advancements have improved the outlook of those diagnosed, it is still daunting news to hear. In the 1950s, children diagnosed rarely lived long enough to attend elementary school. Now, many live long enough to live out their dreams of going to college and starting a career.
“It’s hard on family and friends because everybody goes and looks it up when I tell them,” Klima said. “They’re like, ‘This is going to happen to you.’ No, it’s not because I work hard to keep myself healthy. You guys push me to keep myself healthy.”
Doctors weren’t sure she was going to be one of the lucky ones at first due to her frequent illnesses. She was nominated for a Make-A-Wish trip, which she eventually made to Disney World, but it took her two years to even get healthy enough to do that.
“Make-A-Wish people are fantastic,” Spring said. “They’re used to dealing with very critically ill people with many health needs and still making dreams come true. But Jordan was literally too sick to go up there for an interview to tell them what she wanted.”
The fact that she fought through, and now can compete at a varsity level, is a testament to both her work ethic and advances in medicine.
“I’ve broke a lot of records,” Klima said.
On the floor, Klima is a setter playing her first year at the varsity level for the Blackhawks. Bohl complimented her ability to get everyone involved as well as her volleyball smarts, likely developed after spending time in multiple programs over her high school years.
“You can tell she’s been around the game of volleyball,” Bohl said. “She’s ball smart. ... She knows strategies.”
Her competitive volleyball career is close to coming to an end, but there are bright moments on the horizon. Following her graduation this spring, she’s planning on continuing a family legacy by going to North Dakota State University, the same school her brother currently attends and her parents, both grads, met at. She’ll study pre-physical therapy, getting some inspiration from those who helped her along the way.
“When I was admitted to the hospital in fourth grade I had a physical therapist and I didn’t want to do what he wanted me to do,” Klima said. “I was tired. I was in pain. I just wasn’t myself. But I know that he’s one of the bigger reasons that I’m healthier now. He actually pushed me to do that stuff.”