Thrill of promotion undermined Interim U.S. attorney in battle with cancer

August 09, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

If this were a normal time, Gary P. Jordan would have been brimming with enthusiasm.

Instead, it has been a time of agony and fear -- the result of dealing with a life-threatening disease. Now there is restrained optimism.

Mr. Jordan should have been relishing his appointment as interim U.S. attorney for Maryland. Instead, he's recovering from eight operations needed to vanquish a cancerous tumor in his thigh.

After being away for eight weeks, he returned to the U.S. attorney's office Thursday to resume his duties part time. He will ease into full workdays.

Last week the prosecutor and history buff sat on a couch in the wood-paneled family room of his home near Bel Air and talked about his fight with cancer. His right leg, wrapped in a bandage, was extended on the couch. Gauze and bandages rested on a table beside him. Crutches were nearby.

He said he learned of his condition a month before he was sworn in April 23 for the interim job.

"It was definitely a bittersweet experience," Mr. Jordan, 43, said of the swearing-in ceremony. "On the one hand, it's a wonderful honor that anybody who's been a federal prosecutor can appreciate. On the other hand, my enjoyment of that honor has been tempered by these concurrent health problems."

Mr. Jordan, a nonsmoker and nondrinker, always had been big on physical fitness. He ran three or four miles each Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed hiking and canoeing with his three children -- Kate, 12, Owen, 8, and Michael, 6.

He was exercising on a Nordic Track machine one day in late January when he felt discomfort in his right thigh. Thinking it was a pulled muscle, he treated it with heat and exercised less vigorously.

But the discomfort persisted, and he went to a sports medicine clinic where a physical exam and an X-ray revealed nothing. He was advised to get an MRI -- magnetic resonance imaging -- test to get a picture of his leg muscles.

The MRI, performed at Union Memorial Hospital, showed a large mass in his thigh. He took the results to a specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who was fairly certain that the tumor was malignant.

"I was about as low as I've ever been," Mr. Jordan said. "The two toughest days were the day I got the results from the MRI at Union Memorial and the day I spoke to the doctor at Hopkins."

A biopsy on March 23 confirmed the specialist's grim diagnosis.

Surgeons at Johns Hopkins were able to remove all the tumor. zTC But the process was arduous.

It began with a 12-hour operation June 11 when surgeons removed the softball-sized tumor and most of the quadriceps muscle in Mr. Jordan's right thigh and took a muscle from his back to replace the quadriceps.

In the six weeks before the surgery, he underwent daily radiation to stop the cancer from spreading. He went home a couple of weeks after the operation but had to return to Hopkins soon when there was a major risk of infection in the leg.

He endured seven follow-up operations.

"I think he's been incredibly strong," said his wife, Mary R. "Mary Jean" Craig, a communications lawyer in Baltimore. "He's gone from a situation where he's been very healthy and worked very hard to stay healthy, athletic and involved with his family to a life that's come to a screeching halt with no notice."

Ms. Craig described the cancer as a life-threatening, "high-grade" tumor. She said she and her husband, who will have to be monitored closely from now on, have avoided discussing his prognosis with doctors.

"You get to the point after going through something like this that you have all the information you can handle," she said.

Mr. Jordan, the son of two Pentagon employees, grew up in Falls Church, Va., and in Bel Air. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1972 and the University of Maryland Law School in 1975. He was an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County before he joined the Maryland attorney general's office in 1979 and later led the criminal investigations section. In 1984, he joined the U.S. attorney's office.

He gained a reputation as a tireless prosecutor. For the past several years, he has been first assistant U.S. attorney and the federal government's lead prosecutor in a nearly five-year investigation that has uncovered widespread fraud in the nation's generic drug industry. The probe has resulted in the convictions of 10 pharmaceutical companies, 42 drug company officials and fines of nearly $24 million.

He is expected to resume that work as first assistant when he relinquishes his interim post to Lynne Ann Battaglia, an aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski who was nominated Saturday as U.S. attorney for Maryland.

Breckinridge L. Willcox and Richard D. Bennett, both former U.S. attorneys for Maryland, praised Mr. Jordan's work and expressed sympathy for his health troubles.

Mr. Jordan said his wife's daily hospital visits helped him emotionally, along with the hundreds of cards from family, friends, supporters and from President Clinton.

One highlight was a videotape from Andrew Norman, a sky-diving federal prosecutor. In the video, Mr. Norman is seen falling thousands of feet above the Earth. He holds out his hands to display the words "get well" written on his palms.

During his absence, Mr. Jordan maintained phone contact with his staff whenever possible. Although he has to use crutches and faces a long rehabilitation, he said he is anxious to return to work.

His wife wasn't about to dissuade him despite her concerns.

"He says all he wants is to get back to the normal stressful life he's had," she said.

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