COLUMBIA CITY — Not many families have experienced both sides of organ donation first hand like Julie Brommer.
After spending time on the transplant list herself, Brommer had to make the difficult decision to make her 21-year-old son an organ donor.
Julie, her husband Randy, and daughter Lyndsey, are serving as an inspiration to all, volunteering for the Indiana Donor Network while waiting for Julie to become eligible for the transplant list again.
The last four years have been a nightmare for the Brommers.
Julie has had Type 1 diabetes for the past 40 years. Four years ago, she was put on the transplant list for kidneys and a pancreas.
That was just the start.
“I was getting sick quite often. I wasn’t feeling right and was getting dehydrated a lot,” Brommer said.
In October 2014, she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, which had metastasized to two places in her liver, as well as her diaphragm.
“The hospital in Fort Wayne gave me six months to live and sent me out the door,” Brommer said.
She went on to Cleveland Clinic, but some doctors didn’t even want to take on her case.
“My doctor had to fight with other doctors for them to take me on,” Brommer said. “I was sick, sick, sick.”
Brommer took on an intense treatment of radiation and chemotherapy, which took a toll on all her loved ones.
“I could see how much they were affected by seeing me like that,” Brommer said. “I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. It was so hard watching everyone else watch me go through it.”
The one who struggled the most was her son, Cody, who was a “momma’s boy.”
“The cancer diagnosis really devastated him,” Brommer said.
Cody was adamant about going with his mom on a chemotherapy session.
“He couldn’t kill a fly. I didn’t want him seeing that,” Brommer said.
But Cody insisted, and he took the trip to Goshen to sit with his mom during her treatment.
“He said he needed to go,” Brommer said. “They had the movie ‘Shrek’ on one of the televisions. We sat there and watched it and laughed together, but out of the corner of his eye I could seem him looking at the other people in the room. They didn’t look well. They were grey and blue colored.”
He wasn’t the same since.
On Jan. 16, 2015, Cody Brommer committed suicide. He was fighting a battle in his mind no one knew about.
Cody played football at Columbia City High School and went on to play football at Trine University. Through his football career, he had four major concussions and several more minor ones.
He developed Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, a condition that has become relevant in the NFL in recent years.
“All of this was going on with me being in and out of the hospital, but in his own mind, he was going through his own hell,” Brommer said.
Doctors found a baseball-sized mass on the back of Cody’s head, caused by the multiple concussions.
Cody wrote a note to his family, describing what he was going through. He hadn’t slept in weeks, and often forgot how to drive home from school in Angola — a trip he’d made many times before.
“After each concussion, he sat out the amount of time he was supposed to, but sometimes I think he said he was feeling OK when he really wasn’t,” Brommer said.
Through his mother’s experience, Cody often mentioned that he wanted to be an organ donor.
“Cody was passionate about being on the donor list,” Brommer said.
Though her son’s organs couldn’t be used to help Brommer’s kidney and pancreas issues, they were used to help others.
“Five people got a second chance at life because of Cody,” Brommer said.
Through the tragedy of losing her son, Brommer was still in the middle of cancer treatment.
“They took Cody at 4 a.m. to get his organs, we came home and at 7 a.m. we were headed to Goshen for chemo,” Brommer said. “I was really sick when all of this was going on. There were people asking me if I was sure I wanted to do that, but I knew that’s what Cody would have wanted. He told me I was going to beat this. I think he’s my angel, helping me.”
Brommer did beat the cancer. She’s been in remission for almost two years, and has three more years to go before she can be put back on the transplant list for her kidneys and pancreas.
Because of the chemotherapy, she needs those organs replaced now more than ever, as she’s now doing dialysis six days a week.
“When all of this happened, I was too tired and too sick to think,” Brommer said. “When I had to start dialysis, I had a lot of time to think. I was depressed, but I just kept talking to people.”
Many predicted that Brommer’s marriage wouldn’t make it through everything.
“When Cody was laying there in the hospital, Randy and I had a real heart-to-heart. We decided that we weren’t going to let this ruin us. We’ve had help along the way.”
Compassionate Friends, a program through DeMoney-Grimes Funeral Home in Columbia City, has been a big help, along with the Indiana Donor Network, which continues to be a part of the Brommer’s lives, two years after Cody’s organ donation.
“When we knew Cody wasn’t going to make it, there was a team there to help us through. We’re still getting information and they’re a part of the family to this day. Even the nurses that were there with Cody still keep in touch with us. They’re here to help even afterwards.”
Through the endurance of Julie and a lot of work by Randy and Lyndsey, the Brommer’s have pulled together, when some families would have fallen apart.
Randy went through a two-week training to learn how to give his wife dialysis treatments, so she doesn’t have to spend hours in Fort Wayne — but that means his days are long.
He wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to get ready for work at Northeastern REMC, works 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., then comes home and spends three hours taking care of Julie’s dialysis — where she always has to have someone in the room with her. After that, about 8 p.m., he can work on his home projects before starting all over again the next day.
“He takes wonderful care of me,” Julie said.
The family is also grateful to REMC, which has allowed him to take time off to care for Julie.
“We are stronger because of what we have had to do,” Julie Brommer said.
Some nights Julie would try to cook dinner, and would run out of strength, and Lyndsey stepped up without a complaint.
“I would be 10 minutes into making supper, then I couldn’t finish it,” she said. “Lyndsey has been remarkable through this.”
Lyndsey has worked several jobs, helped with meals and chores around the house, and will finish college next spring.
“The last five years have been a constant roller coaster for me,” Lyndsey Brommer said. “Grieving the loss of my brother and biggest supporter was something I never thought I would have to do. I go days where I cry all day and then the next day I use him as motivation and proceed with my life.”
Lyndsey had to graduate high school alone in June 2015, months after her brother died, and while her parents were in Goshen for Julie’s chemotherapy.
Her parents tried to attend as much as they could for Lyndsey, who was the manager for Columbia City’s girls basketball team.
“I only missed one basketball game her senior year, but Randy practically had to carry me out of the gym by the end of the game,” Julie Brommer said.
Julie said the support from the school district and the Whitley County community has helped the family through.
When they couldn’t attend her graduation, the school Facetimed with Lyndsey’s parents. They were gracious about Lyndsey having to miss school, and the superintendent, among others, brought dinner to the Brommers. The Lady Eagles basketball program still sends cards to the family.
“The whole community has been wonderful, especially what the school did for Lyndsey and us,” Julie Brommer said.
Lyndsey was named Whitley County’s Lilly Scholar, and is attending Grace College to become a counselor. She’s admired by many for her strength.
“It is not easy to lose anyone, especially someone so close,” Lyndsey said. “We did everything together, never fought, and were each other’s motivation. He had a personality everyone adored. He would do anything for anyone. I miss him everyday and it never gets easier, but I know God only gives you one life, so I have to live it to the fullest.”
Lyndsey and Cody’s best friend, Jacob Beard, are engaged.
“He treats her wonderfully. They have something in common. They’ll end up at the cemetery at the same time and not know the other was going,” Julie Brommer said.
Julie will need to be in remission for three more years before she can be put back on the transplant list, meaning, she will likely have six-day-a-week dialysis for years to come.
“Some days are better than others,” Julie said. “You just have to take it one day at a time. Sometimes, you have to take it one minute by one minute. Sometimes it was literally minute by minute.”
Julie’s life will change substantially if she gets a transplant. She wouldn’t have to do insulin shots anymore, which she does two to six times a day. She also wouldn’t have to constantly monitor and limit her fluid intake.
Now, she’s only allowed 32 ounces per day.
“I’m not saying I want to drink a lot, but if I want to have a glass of water, I don’t want to have to think about how many ounces I have left,” Julie said.
The Brommers hope everyone will consider being an organ donor, as many lives can be helped.
“If you are thinking about organ donation, just think if you were on the receiving end of that situation,” Lyndsey said. “Maybe you need a new organ due to a medical condition or accident, would you want a new one? if so, return the favor and sign up to be a hero. Maybe your kids, mom, dad, grandma, uncle or whomever may need a lifesaving organ transplant — think about the loved ones around you. You can save their lives, be a hero and be a gift of life to possibly eight others and their families.”
Sign up to be an organ donor at indianadonornetwork.org.
Run Like a Hero
The Indiana Donor Network is featuring Cody and another donor, Caden Bowels, in its fourth annual Run Like a Hero 5K in Fort Wayne June 24.
Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Indiana Donor Network for organ donor awareness and transplant research.
Registration begins at 7 a.m. and the race starts at 9 a.m. at Summit Middle School, 4509 Homestead Road, Fort Wayne. Participants may also sign up at runlikeahero.com.
The event also includes a photo booth, music, vendors, giveaways, mascots and kids activities.