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Not Taking Air for Granted

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Watching the Olympics, I am struck by the power of muscle and heart and air harnessed by these athletes to such magnificent ends.

Think of that last one: air.

Breathing, in large sustaining gulps of life, in and out and onward, the lungs gifting blood with oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide, over and over.

I get breathless thinking about that.

And then I think of Montana Mobley.

You may not have met Mobley, but maybe you know his father-in-law, longtime Albuquerque Police Lt. Brian McCutcheon, the guy you see especially around Balloon Fiesta time, when his job is to oversee the fiesta’s massive field security detail.

Helping Mobley is McCutcheon’s job now.

Mobley married McCutcheon’s daughter, Katrina, his high school sweetheart, eight years ago. They live in Edgewood and have a 4-year-old son named Aiden. Mobley works in a real estate office, and those who know him say he’s never let the health challenges he’s faced for most of his life keep him from trying to lead a good and normal life.

He was a year younger than Aiden is now when he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that chokes the lungs with mucus thick as oatmeal and blocks the pancreas from obtaining the nutrients the body needs from food.

It’s a disease that only some 50 years ago claimed most of its victims before they could graduate from kindergarten.

Today, thanks to continued improvements in treatment, screening and lung transplantation, the median age of survival is 37, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Mobley is 31.

“You didn’t notice anything wrong when he was younger, maybe shortness of breath on occasion,” McCutcheon said. “He was very active, played on a softball team, worked on cars, camped, fished, very outdoorsy.”

Learn more, do more

For information or to donate to help defray medical costs for double-lung transplant recipient Montana Mobley: cotaformontanam.com

For information or to register as an organ and tissue donor: www.NMdonor.org

But as the years went by, Mobley’s health began to deteriorate. It became harder for his lungs to clear themselves.

“We tried to go camping last year in the Jemez, but the altitude was affecting him enough that he could not breathe well, so we packed it up and headed home,” McCutcheon said.

No matter how much Mobley ate – and he ate a lot, often ordering three meals when he went out to dinner – he was still growing thinner, weaker, his body cannibalizing itself.

He weighed 170 pounds in high school but had dwindled down to 120 pounds and was still dropping.

He was losing air.

This spring, knowing things could not continue as they were, Mobley and his wife traveled to Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., to begin the process of testing for a double-lung transplant. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, more than 50 percent of those who undergo the procedure are still alive after five years. Stanford performs from 50 to 60 lung transplants each year.

Ten days later, Mobley got the call.

“I don’t know who in their right mind would say that they didn’t want the lungs, but I said, ‘Hell, yeah, I want them,’ ” an excited Mobley wrote in his online blog at cotaformontanam.com. “I probably should have been a little calmer with my answer, but when the adrenaline is pumping, you don’t really think, you just do, or say in this case.”

Mobley underwent the transplant that next day, May 11.

“They split him from stem to stern,” McCutcheon said. “Straight up and down, leaving a large scar on his chest.”

Medicaid covered the cost of the transplant, which McCutcheon estimates was upward of $1 million. But it’s all the rest of it – living expenses while Mobley remains in California to be close to his doctors, travel expenses so that his wife and son can visit, some of the medications not covered by insurance or Medicaid, income loss from his job in real estate – that is mounting.

Rent alone for a small apartment near the hospital costs $3,000, McCutcheon said.

That is where McCutcheon comes in.

He and his family are working in conjunction with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association to raise funds through a new nonprofit charity they set up for Mobley.

Those of you interested can click on the link and donate. Fundraising events such as pancake breakfasts and raffles are also in the works.

“He’s worth the effort,” McCutcheon said.

Mobley, meanwhile, continues to have problems with rejection of his new lungs, typical for transplant recipients.

It will likely be many weeks before Mobley returns to New Mexico and his family.

But when he does, I suspect the air he breathes will be mighty magnificent.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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