An Artistic Triumph Over Cushing's Disease: J. Jordan Bruns (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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An Artistic Triumph Over Cushing's Disease: J. Jordan Bruns

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
But to kick off today's health and wellness show, we head up to the studio of an artist whose own health and wellness, not too long ago, were hanging in the balance. So you -- your class is downstairs and then your studio is up?

MR. J. JORDAN BRUNS

00:00:15
Yep.

SHEIR

00:00:15
This is J. Jordan Bruns. So you've got two floors.

BRUNS

00:00:18
Yep. That's why it's the best studio in Maryland.

SHEIR

00:00:21
Jordan, as he's known, is the resident artists at Glen Echo Park in Maryland. He teaches classes in the parks famed yellow barn and creates and displays his paintings and drawings up in the old stone tower.

BRUNS

00:00:31
I've been in the stone tower since 2000 -- right after brain surgery so 2007.

SHEIR

00:00:39
It's kind of hard to hear in the towers echo-y stairway so in case you missed that, in 2007, Jordan underwent brain surgery, a million dollar brain surgery, in fact, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

BRUNS

00:00:50
It was rare enough of an illness to qualify for one of their studies and once I was finally back to normal, it actually took about a year.

SHEIR

00:00:58
And say normal, what does that mean?

BRUNS

00:01:00
Not diseased. Healthy, thinking back to where I used to be once upon a time.

SHEIR

00:01:07
As for what once upon a time means, Jordan's doctors suspect it was probably around high school, which the Ohio native attended in a suburb of Cleveland.

BRUNS

00:01:16
And I was the first student to go to art school from my high school. And then we -- I was in Baltimore so I have a kind of affinity with Maryland.

SHEIR

00:01:23
But it was in Maryland at the Maryland Institute College of Art that Jordan first started noticing something was off. For starters, he was gaining weight.

BRUNS

00:01:32
I was 50 pounds heavier then I am now.

SHEIR

00:01:34
Lots of weight.

BRUNS

00:01:35
Really bulbous face and I have a buffalo hump on the back of my neck. But I had very skinny arms.

SHEIR

00:01:40
And he knew this wasn't a case of the notorious freshman 15.

BRUNS

00:01:43
You know, I was vegetarian diet and running five miles a day, yet I weighed over 200 pounds. So there was something not right.

SHEIR

00:01:50
Then when Jordan got into the MFA art program at Indiana University, he found he was really struggling with memory.

SHEIR

00:01:57
And I wasn't remembering a lot of what my instructors were telling me.

SHEIR

00:02:00
And focus.

BRUNS

00:02:01
I had six bodies of work. I produced more than anyone else in my program, for sure, but they got frustrated with me and they just wanted me to focus and actually I got put on probation.

SHEIR

00:02:10
Finally, he decided enough was enough. He went to IU's health clinic and after hearing Jordan's symptoms, the clinics doctors said, look, this is kind of a long shot.

BRUNS

00:02:18
I'm going to test for Cushing's Disease. And low and behold, that's what I had.

SHEIR

00:02:23
Cushing's Disease is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, right at the base of the brain and that tumor over stimulates the production of the stress hormone, cortisol.

BRUNS

00:02:31
A normal person's between one and 10 on their cortisol level, whatever doctors measure cortisol with, and mine was over 400.

SHEIR

00:02:39
Cortisol controls your bodies use of carbohydrates, fats and protein. It helps reduce swelling and inflammation. It also affects your mental state. So too much cortisol and all those things get out of whack, which is why the doctor thought to test Jordan for Cushing's Disease. So she thought you might have it, you were tested, you came out positive for it and what was your reaction?

BRUNS

00:02:58
Oh, it was relief. You know, I was very unhappy with the way I looked and my memory was terrible. So when it finally got resolved, you know, I had some sort of depression issues just because I felt so terrible, but I thought this was going to be something I had to live with for the rest of my life.

SHEIR

00:03:12
And, of course, it wasn't, thanks to the surgery Jordan eventually received at NIH, which again, was a kind of experimental surgery since most cases of Cushing's Disease...

BRUNS

00:03:22
Apparently, it's more prevalent in women and dogs and horses.

SHEIR

00:03:25
...don't occur in guys.

BRUNS

00:03:26
The actual probability of me having it, I think we calculated it to 2 in a million men.

SHEIR

00:03:32
As to why it took Jordan an entire year to recover after the surgery, you have to remember, basically his body had been addicted to cortisol...

BRUNS

00:03:39
My body was fiending for cortisol...

SHEIR

00:03:41
...ever since the tumor appeared during his high school days, so his doctors...

BRUNS

00:03:44
It was essentially being a heroin addict, then removing all your heroine.

SHEIR

00:03:49
...had to wean him off.

BRUNS

00:03:50
So I was taking medication and during that time period, my pituitary gland, which had been a sleep for nine years because of the tumor was taking over, was slowly starting to wake up again and do its job.

SHEIR

00:04:00
And now that Jordan's pituitary is back in business and he feels normal again, to borrow his word...

BRUNS

00:04:04
I'm back to running, I'm back to producing artwork on a daily basis.

SHEIR

00:04:08
He says he feels forever indebted to NIH for getting his life back on track. That's why, earlier this year, he started a fundraiser for the Children's Inn at NIH. Back in May, five Glen Echo artists painted in the bumper car pavilion as the Washington Conservatory of Music performed jazz. The event raised $10,000 for art therapy programs at the Children's Inn. This year, Jordan says, the money will go toward music therapy. And you said, this is kind of your way of giving back?

BRUNS

00:04:33
Yeah. I didn't have to pay for my surgery so this is my way of saying thank you. And they do a really wonderful job at the Children's Inn of making that environment friendly for kids. I can see myself, if I was a younger kid, really appreciating that kind of opportunity to not be in a very stark hospital.

SHEIR

00:04:51
And of course, Jordan hopes he won't wind up in such a place either, like, say, if the tumor comes back.

BRUNS

00:04:57
I run the risk of losing the pituitary gland if it does come back. As of now, I'm off hormone replacements. I don’t wake up and go through withdrawals of feeling sick and nauseas all the time. But, you know, there's always the chance that it could come back. But it's less now than ever.

SHEIR

00:05:11
As for how Jordan runs his bout with Cushing's Disease has affected his art, well, he's always been fascinated by the cycle of destruction and rebirth. And now he says that theme takes on a whole new meaning in his artworks. Many of which depict sweeping, almost surreal stone buildings, often crumbling and falling down from the inside and out.

BRUNS

00:05:30
You know, destruction, I think I was doing to myself during that time period. But also, the rebirth is still there. So there's always kind of a glimmer of hope and some people kind of walk in the studio saying, oh, it's very post-apocalyptic. It's very depressing. And I’m like, yeah, and that's part of what life is. If things die, things are reborn. And I think that cycle is true to me. You know, it feels like it came through experience in a way.

SHEIR

00:05:56
For more on Jordan Bruns, Glen Echo Park and the Children's Inn at NIH, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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