Brandy Stroeder, fighting cystic fibrosis and the Oregon state health plan that denied her the triple transplant she needed to survive was a titan, despite her diminutive stature. I called her kid whenever I saw her, despite the fact that I was only a few years older than her when we met in 2000. Writer David Bates and I were given essentially unfettered access to her and her wonderful family almost immediately and just about as quickly we saw that this would be a long term story.
For the next two months David and I would spend usually a few days a week with Brandy, her mom Karen, and other family and friends, like Charry (below). Hospital stays, family card games, graduation and parties. We were one of them, and it was an honor that we did not take lightly.
In July of that year, thanks to the unusually generous financial support of hotel magnate Mark Hemstreet, Brandy was flown to Stanford University for tests that would get her onto the transplant list that the state of Oregon denied her. That afternoon Brandy would drive us from Palo Alto to downtown San Francisco on the freeway, with my writing partner turning a number of sickly shades as we went — Brandy was a free spirit behind the wheel. To David's relief, I would drive us all back.
That's the kind of relationship we all had. When Brandy was to meet with state senator Gary George at the capitol building in Salem, we went in my car — just me, Brandy and David. Not the usual protocol for reporter-subject, but we were essentially doing a story about a friend, and when a friend needs a ride, you offer.
After turning 18, Brandy moved out of her mom's house and tried living alone for awhile, but she found that without the regular oversight she wasn't as vigilant with taken her meds on a daily basis — she had 16 that she took on a regular basis.
At the end of 2001, things begin to take a turn for the worse. Brandy would begin return visits to Doernbecher Hospital in Portland again as her health continued to slide. She even flew out for a possible triple transplant, only to find once there that one of the organs was unusable. After that her spirit was lower than I had ever seen.
Brandy died on April 8, 2002, of respiratory failure at a Portland hospital. She was 19 years old and at the top of the transplant list.
This picture, which I made on the day after Christmas 2001 is my favorite of the hundreds I made of her over nearly two years.
A week later I photographed her funeral, my final assignment for the News Register before moving to Washington. It seemed fitting in a way, though, truth be told, I really didn't want to. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I owed it to her.
When I came over to the family's house on the evening she passed, I gave her mother Karen the wall plaque I received from the SPJ for the first place photo story about Brandy I had won the year before. It seems an odd thing in a way, but it had both my name and hers on it. I wonder if she still has it?
The first installment of our story was published on June 25, 2000. David wrote a wonderful prologue that ran on the front page, before jumping to B1 and two inside pages. Feature page editor Racheal Winter didn't usually design the front page — and I don't remember if I lobbied for her to in this case, though that sounds like something I would have done back then — and did a beautiful job with the four page package.
It was Rachael again with the front page the day after Brandy died, with a look that echoed that of Chance for a Lifetime. It looked elegant, which she deserved, and we ran the picture that was my favorite.
On page 2 we ran a Letter to Readers in each edition, and I volunteered, as I had a number of things I wanted to say. And while it may not be the most eloquent thing I've ever written, it was an honest assessment of my feelings.
I hope that if you are interested you will look up Brandy online to read more about her, and if so inspired, may get involved in CF research and funding.