‘Blessed’: Brother drives Navy veteran across the country to get life-saving lung transplant

Thanks to a team of doctors and the love of a brother, a Navy veteran can breathe with a new pair of lungs. (Source: WMTV)
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 6:50 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV/Gray News) - A Navy veteran who was in need of a new pair of lungs can breathe again thanks to a team of doctors in Wisconsin and the love of a brother.

Earnest Ferguson said his health issue dates back to 1989 when he said he was around a lot of chemicals. At the time, the 55-year-old was stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as it was being built.

When he developed breathing problems, he said not even the oxygen tank he hauled around for two years was enough.

“Everywhere I went. I was sleeping with oxygen. I was on oxygen 24 hours a day,” he said.

Dr. Erin Lowery at the Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison said Ferguson has interstitial lung disease and pulmonary hypertension.

Scarring in Ferguson’s lungs affected both the lungs and the heart, according to Dr. James Maloney. The surgeon said Ferguson may not be living now if it weren’t for the lung transplant.

The two doctors became Ferguson’s doctors after the Georgia man decided to get a transplant in Wisconsin.

“I can walk over a mile on the treadmill now, and I wasn’t even able to walk down the hallway prior without taking a break,” Earnest Ferguson said.

Lowery said the Madison Department of Veterans Affairs is one of only three VA centers in the country to currently offer lung transplants.

“Time is of the essence in these situations,” she said. “Even though I was worried that he was quite sick after he arrived, we realized he was sicker than we even thought.”

Ferguson’s older brother, Robert, said he remembers the date of the surgery, May 28.

Like most of the nine Ferguson siblings, Robert Ferguson had also served in the military. He remained by his brother’s side for months.

“I decided at that point that if I could do something for him I would,” Robert Ferguson said. “So, I drove from Dallas to Athens, Georgia, to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments.” Earnest Ferguson has been recovering since his surgery in the spring and has yet to get released from the hospital.

“I feel great,” he said. “Just thankful that I was able to do this, that I was able to get to Madison with my brother’s help.”

Earnest Ferguson said he’s now looking forward to getting back home to his loved ones.

“I have kids and grandkids that I want to see grown,” he said.