By Elizabeth P. Valk/Publisher
September 11, 1989 12:00 PM

When the news broke that scientists had isolated the long-elusive gene responsible for cystic fibrosis (see story, page 83), Chicago bureau chief Giovanna Breu was ready. Breu has covered the medical beat for PEOPLE since 1975, when she first reported a story about a maverick obstetrician who delivered babies at home for indigent families. She has since reported from a medical school in Grenada and from hospitals across the country, filing stories on everything from AIDS to zygotes. “I like covering medicine because it gives me the opportunity to meet ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances,” says Breu. “Medicine is a topic that affects all of us.”

The daughter of a Newark, N.J., cardiologist, Breu developed an early fascination with medicine from listening to her father discuss his cases. She traces her specific interest in cystic fibrosis back to a childhood incident—the death of an 8-year-old friend from the illness. “In those days, victims of CF died extremely young,” recalls Breu, a graduate of Smith College and the Columbia University school of journalism. “No one seemed to know much about the disease other than that it was genetic in origin.” Over the years, Breu has witnessed the anguish of other friends whose children were afflicted, so she was personally as well as professionally excited to hear of the new discovery.

Immediately after the research results were made public, she sprang into action. She leafed through her extensive files, and within an hour she had called Philip and Peggy Reitz, whose young son has cystic fibrosis. Breu, who is married to free-lance writer Joseph Breu and is the mother of Christopher, 21, and Eugenia, 17, then headed for Toronto and Ann Arbor to interview the geneticists who had made the discovery. But it was 3-year-old David Reitz and the thousands of youngsters like him who remained uppermost in her thoughts as she wrote her story. “Now for the first time there is a way to screen people for the defect,” says Breu, “and hopefully, down the road there may be a treatment that one day may even cure the disease.”

(For further information about the illness, contact: The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 6931 Arlington Road, Bethesda, Md. 20814 1-800-FIGHT CF)