Big Breath In is George Keulen’s memoir about his breath-compromised life. Keulen was born with cystic fibrosis, a condition that was diagnosed when he was just 3 days old. CF is a genetic illness that affects most of the body’s organs but has the most damaging effects on the lungs. It is caused by a recessive gene carried by both parents. Be prepared to find yourself thinking about your breath and catching your breath as you read this memoir.
Keulen grew up on his family’s farm in the delta lands of Ladner, B.C., dreaming of becoming a farmer himself, a realistic ambition for any child who loves the outdoors, animals, and the rhythms of farm life. His parents provided Keulen and his older brother and sister with a loving, secure environment surrounded by a supportive extended family and church community.
Keulen begins and frames his memoir by honoring his older brother, Warren, who was born with another genetic disorder, spinal muscular atrophy, and died from complications in his early teens. Keulen’s older sister, Lynnette, always the sibling caregiver, is honored throughout, along with Keulen's parents.
Keulen reflects on a childhood that felt very ordinary even as it required daily regimens in order to keep his lungs mucus free. Into his adolescence years he had a growing awareness of how serious CF might become and that there was a life expectancy. The death of a cousin from CF brought that reality very close.
Entering adulthood, Keulen enjoyed being physically active by running, cycling, and hiking as well as volunteering at his church. At the same time, clinical visits began to reveal a downward trend in the quality of his lungs. The possibility of hospitalization loomed ominously. Even as he finished university and decided to return to farming with his parents, it became clear that farming would cause lung deterioration. Keulen would return to school to pursue a master’s in theological studies, his second love.
Here begins Keulen’s journey of falling in love while at the same time living into the reality of ultimate lung failure. Joined by his wife Kim, Keulen begins the process of acceptance into the province’s lung transplant program, spending months in the hospital, finally receiving the gift of life from a donor in June 2010. That phone call was the beginning of hope in the Keulen family’s life.
Several weeks later, the Keulens left the hospital with a sober joy, knowing a life was lost to become their gain. When Kim was diagnosed with cancer several years later Keulen cared for her as she had cared for him. Kim passed away in 2021. Keulen served as a pastor at the Bridge Community CRC in Langley until recently.
This is a memoir told with grit, honesty, and vulnerability. Take a big breath in as you begin to read. (Friesen Press)