Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Tears of joy flowed freely as dozens of people greeted Rudy Lucero and his wife, Deborah, Tuesday evening.
Many held signs saying “Welcome back, Rudy” while others arrived at Mariposa Basin Park on the West Side in their classic cars for the homecoming celebration.
It had been exactly three months to the day since Rudy underwent a double lung transplant surgery at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora, and just one day since he got the all-clear from doctors to drive home to Albuquerque, where his medical crisis began.
“I feel really good now that I’m home,” said Rudy, 55. “It’s been a long journey. Too long, but I’ve been so blessed. I’m so happy that everyone is here. I just need some chile, man.”
A teary-eyed Deborah, 53, also expressed joy at being home. “I’m just happy to be home and to bring Rudy home and to all his friends and family,” she said. “We haven’t had this in almost two years.”
On New Year’s Day 2021, Rudy and Deborah, then his longtime girlfriend, both tested positive for COVID. Vaccines had just started to become available and the couple did not yet have access to them. Over the next five days, as Deborah recovered, Rudy, who has diabetes, was struggling to breathe. He was rushed by ambulance to a hospital.
The couple had been planning an elaborate wedding and a Hawaii honeymoon, but suddenly unsure of his future, Rudy suggested that he and Deborah get married right away. On Super Bowl Sunday last year, they exchanged vows via an audio-video connection, with Rudy in his hospital bed, and Deborah in the parking lot below, surrounded by about 100 mask-wearing friends and a procession of classic cars.
COVID scarred Rudy’s lungs so badly that by the time he was released from Lovelace Medical Center in June, he expected to spend the rest of his life on oxygen. By March, his condition had become even more dire, forcing them to travel to the hospital in Aurora, where Rudy, with his oxygen levels still falling, was placed on the transplant list.
“I was breathing normal. It was crazy. The way I was living before, there was no quality of life,” he said at the time.
They still don’t know much about the donor, other than he was a 33-year-old man, said Deborah, “but we are just so grateful and appreciative for that gift and for giving Rudy a second chance.”
Another teary-eyed person was Rudy’s brother, Tony Lucero Jr.
“There’s six of us,” he said. “We were all so worried, but seeing him now – this is the way he looked before he got sick. It’s a miracle.”
Robert Benavidez grew up with Rudy and has known him since they were 10 years old. “He’s here and he’s walking and that’s a blessing,” he said. “We were scared to death we’d lose him. He’s a great guy and would do anything for anybody. This is just awesome.”
Couri Clay considers Rudy her uncle. “I’ve known him since I was 4, so he’s like family. I was pretty scared for him for a while. I got to spend some one-on-one time with him in Colorado recently, but I’m really glad that’s he’s back here now.”
Although Rudy is no longer on supplemental oxygen, he will have to take a handful of anti-rejection medications daily for the rest of his life, and for the time being has to return every month to the hospital in Colorado to meet with his doctors. Eventually, those visits will get spread out over larger intervals, said Deborah.
In the meantime, Rudy said, his plans for the future are pretty simple:
“I’m just going to live.”