OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Eighteen-year-old Kaia Brewer, a senior at Shawnee Mission West High School, dreamed of attending her senior prom, but didn’t know if she would live long enough to go.
Brewer had cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder in which the lungs don’t function properly so they fill up with fluid.
Dr. Michael Lewis, Pediatric Cystic Fibrosis Program director at the University of Kansas Hospital, explained that X-rays of her lungs showed white patches on both lungs. He said the white patches are mucus, which made it difficult for Brewer to breathe.
“It was breath to breath, day by day. Some nights I wasn’t even sleeping because I couldn’t breathe,” Brewer said.
Brewer’s mom, Formika Brewer-Webb, said she had to have breathing treatments as a baby.
“She also had to have pills everyday — enzymes that absorbed the fat in her system.” Brewer-Webb said.
Kaia Brewer said that growing up, the hospital was her second home. She regularly missed school and missed enjoying activities with her friends because it was so hard to breathe. Her mother had the difficult task of caring for her daughter, her other children and working.
At 16-years-old, Brewer and her family were at a crossroads they said tested their faith. Brewer’s lungs were failing and doctors said she needed a transplant.
“They knew she needed a transplant, but in my head I’m like, ‘We’re Christians, we believe in God. We don’t need a transplant.’ Then, to see her lungs get worse to where I’m like ‘Lord, you know what should be my next step,’” Brewer-Webb said.
Kaia Brewer and her mother decided to move to St. Louis to wait for a lung transplant and in two short months, they got the call that would change Brewer’s life.
In a matter of hours, Kaia Brewer was in surgery getting a double lung transplant.
Now, 18 months later, Brewer says that, for the first time, she’s really living.
The X-rays of her new lungs are perfectly clear and she is able to do something she’s never been able to do before: breathe with ease.
“I don’t get out of breath; I don’t have to stop in the middle of the stairs and take a breath and take my time. I just walk up and here I am,” she said.
Brewer said her new lungs revived her life and renewed her faith. She is a member of United Believers Community Church in south Kansas City. She decided she wanted to be re-baptized.
“I feel like I need to get re-baptized because I got the transplant so I feel like I’m a new person in a way. So I just wanted to, I don’t know, rekindle my love of God even though I’m the same person. I just have somebody else’s lungs inside of me, so I kind of feel like a different person,” she said.
After she was re-baptized, Brewer said she shed tears of joy.
“It was breathtaking. I held my nose and I was able to breathe and that’s all I ever wanted to do since I was on oxygen — was be able to breathe,” she said.
Two weeks later, another dream came true.
Brewer attended her senior prom with several of her friends from Shawnee Mission West, who supported her though the tough times and celebrated her good fortune to get new lungs and experience what it’s like to be a normal teenager.
“I love seeing Kaia with her new lungs and being able to do more and being involved in school and going to prom. This year we’re graduating together. It’s just really exciting,” said Jazaire’ Everett, Kaia’s friend since elementary school.
Brewer said her life has improved dramatically but it’s still not easy. She has to take 13 pills a day, but it’s a price she said she’s happy to pay to be able to breathe and lead a normal life.
In May, Brewer and her friends will graduate, and they say they’re focused on the future. She plans to attend college and become a dietitian. She also said she will be committed to encouraging people to become organ donors. Her friend and fellow senior at Shawnee Mission West Julia Del Greco said she became an organ donor after watching Brewer struggle with cystic fibrosis.
There is another dream she hopes will eventually come true: She wants to meet and thank the family of the person who donated their organs to her.
“When you get a blessing from God, you thank God. I got a blessing from this family, I want to thank the family,” she said.
Brewer will return to St. Louis this summer for a checkup, two years after her double lung transplant. At that time, she’ll find out if she’ll get to meet her donor’s family.
Brewer and her supporters will be participating in the Great Strides Cystic Fibrosis Foundation walk on Saturday, May 12 to raise money for cystic fibrosis research and drug development.