Last night, as I boarded a flight home from Chicago I received word that Jesse Peterson had passed away from complications associated with his cystic fibrosis, a disease we got to witness him do battle with for years.
Jesse was one of the best people I’ve ever met. Full of integrity, hard work, and generosity, and the world is a duller place without him in it. He was a really good human.
Those of you familiar with Jesse’s story will know that cystic fibrosis is no joke. It’s a disease that creeps across your body, slowly stealing your ability to do normal things like breathe. Jesse’s final weeks were spent hoping for a lung transplant that never came. We all followed along in his Facebook group for the past several months, hoping for the post that would say the doctors had found a donor and that Jesse would be undergoing the transplant surgery.
I marveled that modern medicine has the power to replace a man’s lungs, and that someone like Jesse had a very real shot at getting off the oxygen and breathing normally again. We all saw the photos of Jesse in the hospital, breathing tube under his nose and wearing a hospital gown, still leaning over his laptop building a WordPress site for someone.
I have no doubt that till the end, Jesse was still running his business every day to serve his clients and to provide for his family. I can only imagine what it must have been like to watch someone who is such a very hard worker grow weak and need help.
There are a lot of people in the world who have cystic fibrosis, but in a perverse turn of fate they are unable to find solace spending time together in the same place because of the risk of cross-infection. There’s an association of CS professionals, but patients avoid being in the same room with one another. Because their compromised immune systems, gathering a group of CS patients together puts them all at high risk.
I remember five or six years ago when Jesse came to Austin and we got to spend time with him in our offices. He told us about his cystic fibrosis diagnosis, what his prognosis was, about the official group of CS patients, and how they couldn’t ever meet in the same place. Jesse was a leader in this community, just as he was in the WordPress community, and he told me with a big grin on his face how he loved being able to have Google Hangout conversations with other CS folks. He was more excited by the fact that technology was connecting this community in new ways than he was angry that they were sick in the first place.
That’s anger I know I wouldn’t be able to avoid. But Jesse did. Jesse was able to turn something isolating into an opportunity for community.
Jesse’s huge grin and optimism has always stuck with me. As someone with a really awful auto-immune disease, I can relate to Jesse’s painful circumstances. And from my own vantage point, I was amazed at his unflagging spirit and what appeared to be unshakeable optimism. As far as I could see, the dude was always happy and seemed to have a sense of duty that required he share that happiness and optimism with folks around him.
Even with his illness, Jesse still dedicated a huge chunk of his life fostering children with his wife, Kristin, providing a good and loving home to some of the kids who need help the most. I always quietly marveled over this. The man with a ticking clock of cystic fibrosis over his head dedicated his life inject some hope into the lives of foster children.
So Jesse, I wish I’d gotten to chat with you towards the end. I wish that I’d been able to tell you how much I respect you and how grateful I am for the example you set for the rest of us. To your wife and sons, I extend my deepest sympathies and of course my prayers.
May your memory be eternal. I know those of us that met you can never forget you.
And also, for those of you who knew Jesse, please consider a donation to his funeral costs if you are able.