Monday, October 13, 2008

Catching my Breath: Part 2- One out of Five

In 2003 I was diagnosed with Scleroderma, an autoimmune condition that could potentially take a turn for the worst. I was in the best shape of my life and potentially building my career as a Rock Star. This was a serious event but I took it upon myself to fend off any negatively creative views of my future. I fought the condition with resilience, taking every moment to reflect on life and do my best and decided that this will not stop me from enabling my dreams. On the clinical side I was able to find a specialist who helped me to stabilize the progression of the condition through some severe drug therapy. On the emotional level, family, friends and music played the greatest role in letting me achieve even more stability. I went ahead and pushed forward, trying to live as normal a life as possible and continue pursuing the dreams I so much aspire to.

Back in the early 90's I had spearheaded a new movement that would eventually create a new demand and forge a new category for music in Nor-Cal. Although Rock en Espanol had its early beginnings in this country dating back to the 50's and 60's it had never taken a full identity. Rock en Espanol became the new talk in town through the Bay Area and right after showcasing my new band a surge of new groups started to clone. Los Angeles had seen the same surge and demand for the ranga but being so close to the border the sound generated was highly influenced by Mexico. The Bay Area wide cultural diversity offered something different and the movement was in its infancy. Clubs all over started opening the doors for this new sound eventually giving birth to "La Rockola", the best and only place to see the cream of the cream of the new movement of latin rockers emerging in the Bay. "La Rockola" was featured every Sunday at the famous "Berkeley Square". This venue was brought to reality by the Caipo brothers, Eddie and Juan Manuel who at the same time, along with me, would plant a seed for underground sonic history. OriXa became one of the most sought after Latin Alternative outfits in the US; the brain child of myself and long time music partner Juan Manuel Caipo. My life as a local celebrity in the music scene of the Bay Area was a humble achievement. By 2003 the band was ever demanding and we had started working on our upcoming album "Siembra"; a process that would takes us 2 years to complete and what later would become our breaking point.

At the same time my life was taking another turn…my daughter, Kaya, was born in April 2003. By the end of 2003 it seemed as though I had conquered my menaces; Scleroderma didn't pose a threat anymore or at least it seemed that way. Kaya gave new meaning to everything. Without her and without the support of my family and friends I think I would have fallen into darkness. As time passed I learned more about my condition and all of its possible scenarios. Undertaking this situation would force me to face the greatest battle of my life.

No one could prepare me for my next chapter. Having stabilized the condition for almost 2 years gave me great hope and I kept on trucking. Early 2005 "Siembra" was a reality and the boys and I were ready to take over the world. The record was hot and all we needed was the right timing and the right place to diffuse our artistic concept. By 2006 OriXa was going strong. We were on the top of things - MTVes was giving us love, due to our our strong single "Siembra" with a video directed by Leonardo Ricagni from Mojo- A Band Apart; a small independent film company owned by Quentin Tarantino. We were playing great shows and doing what we love. I was in heaven. Even though I knew I was fighting a monster I was still able to hang in there and do what I was made for, music. Playing great shows with some of our peers, hanging out, playing the Fillmore with Café Tacuba, El Tri, touring with La Maldita, hitting New York, LA and our very own Bay Area. I was breathing it, living it. My life seemed perfect. Kaya was thriving, family life was beautiful and music was there to support me. I was a Rock Star.

Towards the end of 2007 we all started to fade within our circle. OriXa had been at it for almost 13 years, especially Juan Manuel and I. The band and I started to lose momentum and what had begun as a great year was slowly deteriorating, and so was my health. One of the potential issues that could occur with this condition is that it could attack my internal organs. I was diagnosed with a mild form of systemic scleroderma, however, that was not enough to rule out the possibility for it to turn into something fatal.

OriXa and I decided to take a hiatus from the scene; this was something we all had personally agreed to as we felt we have had a good run for awhile and were due a much needed break. Our last release “Siembra”, which we were very proud of, seemed to have done great things for an independent band but, in the end, we were overshadowed by the greater forces of the industry, lacked a strong management team and most of all, any financial backing to enable our work to be marketed to reach the masses. “Siembra” did not tap its highest potential. At times we felt sad, frustrated and even angry. Letting go felt very hard but we all took space, went in different directions and decided to focus on our personal lives and interests.

2007 began with a strange blue feeling. It was hard to imagine that OriXa would be asleep for a whole year or even more but I was okay with it and it was time to get back to raise my game regarding my condition. I was in it for life so I had to really take the time to focus my energy and pour myself into finding what could make me better. Not having the pressure of the band would give me more time to stay focused.

In April 2007 I started to notice that I was running out of breath rather often. This sensation had started towards the end of 2006 but since I was always a very active individual I didn’t pay much attention. In fact, OriXa’s performances were always praised for the high energy I brought into it. I mountain biked, rock climbed, snowboarded. I never questioned it and convinced myself that I was just a little out of shape. After taking a Pulmonary Function Test it was clear to me that that was not the situation. Reality had struck again. The condition had manifested in my lungs, and a very slow but certain progression was at work. Relentless amounts of tests determined that this was real, and I was put on a new trial of drugs to find the perfect cocktail to stabilize its progression. By the end of the year I had lost 20 pounds in 6 months. This was due to the fact that I had lost 50% of my diffuse capacity, the lungs ability to transfer gases. Scleroderma was thickening and damaging the alveolar walls of my lungs. This made my body work 3 times as hard, consuming 3 times the amount of calories than an average person. Basically I had turned into a runner without running at all. Breathing had become a very difficult task, I had to move slowly to avoid exerting my system, at times needing supplemental oxygen to keep my oxygen saturation levels up to pace.

A few months after I started researching and learning about lung transplants I came to very much contemplate the possibility. I had learned through my research that I was a potential candidate for it. Learning about the risks but also the high cost of it completely shocked my world and emotionally taxed my spirit. This is something beyond what I had ever imagined. Emotionally there was no parallel however; there was something beyond my own understanding that was telling me this was my window of opportunity and I had to take my chances. This would not cure me from the condition but would bring me back to somewhat of normal functionality, making me breath hard and strong, allowing me to sing again and, most importantly, to achieve what everyone should have - a better quality of life. Lung transplants are very much at the cutting edge of technology and most people with transplants get to live fuller lives. Within months, in most cases people are back to riding bikes, exercising and having pretty normal lung capacity. Of course, there are lots of risks involved such as rejection and infection, but these are part of the road to take and that feeling inside me kept telling me I needed to tackle this moment without hesitation if I were to enable my own dreams. I learned that 1 out every 5 calls of a potential donor may turn into a false alarm; this was because at times the organ my not be what the doctors are looking for. I basically reprogrammed my mind and told myself: Rowan, one call one time we'll fly.

Stay tune for Catching my Breath: Part 3- Frame of Mind

One Love, Rowan

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Catching my Breath: Part 1- The Call

It had been just about seven weeks since I got listed for a lung transplant. The first week felt like a long year and then the following ones kind of went on a glide rule by the mundane of my daily grind. I'd wake up around 6 am or so and just kind of stay still on the couch and enjoy that moment of a regular heart rate at about 88/89 BPM while breathing 8 liters of O2 per minute; however, anticipating that the moment I would decide to move into a sitting position, my pulse would race fast like a pika looking for a hole to hide from its predator. This, along with my need for a higher saturation of oxygen, would send me into what would be part of my ultimate daily task - Trying to catch my breath.

Breathing is such natural thing to do. It is very hard to explain in words the feeling of not being able to do it. I would first try to put my mind into a ready face. I'd slowly remove the covers and proceed to a sitting position; in less than a minute my pulse would get all jacked up as high as 120 BPM, oxygen saturation would drop and the acceleration of my breathing would set off a coughing attack that decreased the chances of catching my breath even farther. Taking control of this will take me at least 20 minutes in which, at that point, I would be so exausted from hacking leaving me feeling like I may as well never have tried to get up to begin with. This was not an option for me; I would just cope and take myself through the process and give it a positive outlook. I would say to myself, Rowan, if you get up you can make it to the stairs and then to the bathroom...ah taking a dump, brushing my teeth and washing my face made the challenge worthwhile and so I will just troop and get it done. This was one of many tasks and I was getting pretty good at it, although the idea of getting good at something of such a nature wasn't appealing. My goal was to keep myself self-sufficient.

Keeping myself active became the name of my game and I would play this hard everyday for the weeks to come. I was very lucky to have been allowed to work from home; this kept my mental and emotional state of mind very high. I also became good at this quick. Working at my desk at home also had me setting a routine that enabled me to stay on top of my game and truly it felt great.

On Saturday Sept 13th Heather and I had a real challenging conversation about my physical state; it had progressively gotten worse in the past 2 weeks and the daily grind was getting a lot harder. Heather had been so strong, so willing and was already so overextended herself to the maximum human capacity that I was determined to do my best to try to keep a balance and do as much as I could on my own...but we both knew reality was creeping in and we needed to assess our next move. I had had a pretty shitty night. I was restless and woke up around 4 am and never went back to sleep. I had spent the day feeling completely taxed. I felt tired and very low energy, so by the time we started talking later that day it was obvious things were about to take a turn for the worst. Just the week before my dear friend Bruce Cornell had dropped a wheelchair for me so I could be taken out for my lab work and possibly some little outings to get fresh air; I had been home bound for over 5 weeks and I longed to see the bay. At this point, taking 5 steps would send me off into the void or what at times I started calling, falling into a bottomless pool. Yep I would have to wheel around.

Heather and I talked about the possibility of maybe bringing someone to assist me during the day, to help me with meals and kind of keep an eye on me. This was something I was not thrilled about but I could see that it was inevitable. Heather simply could not bear any more weight on her already endless responsibilities. I simply replied, "Don't worry, I'm still feeling very strong and I will let you know went I get there." Sunday came and it was a very cool day. I felt great and somewhat energized. I had a feeling of real awe that I could not quite put my finger on so I just rode on that high and did some affirmation work. Heather, Kaya and I had spent the day together playing card games, doing art and hanging out. Kaya was such a doll. After dinner that evening we all sat on the couch to cuddle and we were looking for a movie to watch. Around 8 pm the phone rang and as we sat screening the call, Heather jumped up to grab it when she heard it was UCSF hospital. I was not quite as alarmed since "The call" was supposed to come first through my cellular phone however; this would not be the case.

Heather answered and she was asked if Mr Rowan Jimenez was available; again we were both very unsure about the call until I took the phone and said: "hello, yes this is Rowan Jimenez" and the nurse said, "Mr Jimenez, Dr Hoop wants you to come here tonight for a lung transplant." It took a moment to register the sentence but once she asked if I could be there before 10 pm it just set in. Our jaws dropped and immediately we went into autopilot. I mean it had only been 7 weeks and we were still getting our plot together. Emergency contacts, who will take Kaya while we went to the hospital etc. There was so much we had not completely prepared but the call was here and there was no time to waste. Kaya was calmer than both of us. On her own, she went upstairs to her room and packed a bag with a change of clothes and any other necessities. While in the car driving to San Francisco it all came together; I had been so focused and my aim towards the goal I've been wanting to achieve was about to materialize. Hold fast amigo! I was on my way to get a bilateral lung transplant.

Stay tune for Catching my Breath: Part 2- One out of Five

One love, Rowan

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Together at Last!

Dear love ones,

This is one the most amazing moments in my life; together at last. This past weekend I was able to go to the beach with Kaya and Heather, we went to the park, took several walks. It was truly something out this world; I pick up right where I left it about a year ago. I'm so happy.

I know I have not write much about what went on after the call on Sept 14th but believe me that I will; there's just a lot to put together but I wil make sure I share this with you soon. Thanks for the support and love. Also don't forget about the Full capacity comp Nov. 1st at Iron Works; its going to be off the hook!!!!!

Feeling like a Pamplona bull!!

One love, Rowan, Heather and Kaya