RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- His family had known he had cystic fibrosis – a rare disease that attacks the lungs, pancreas and liver – since he was 14 months old.
But this . . .
“I had been in the hospital (off and on) my whole life,” Tucker recalled from his mother’s Richmond home. “That’s easy. But I’ve never felt the true symptoms of helplessness.”
“It was terrifying,” said his mother, Page Gordon. “He went into the hospital on April the 4th and he was immediately admitted to the intensive care unit. Which he had never been in before. And he went spirally down within 30 days. We almost lost him twice.”
Tucker, a Deep Run High School graduate and day care worker, had fought his disease like a champ, playing football, running track, snowboarding and boxing to stay in tip-top shape.
But the disease had suddenly fought back.
As he drifted into a coma, his family and friends and even a total stranger jumped in the ring to announce the fight for his life.
Social media, most effectively #helptuckerbreathe, spread the word. He needed $50,000 for a lung transplant. Right away.
He was flown to Duke University Hospital, where he was in such bad shape doctors told his mother he would likely not survive the procedure, his mother recalled.
Family and friends literally lifted Tucker up to get him ready for surgery.
Then the miracles started happening in earnest. Someone somewhere died tragically, and their lungs were a perfect match.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening so quickly,” his mother recalled. “He had only been on the waiting list for 48 hours.”
Tucker was mostly out of it for most of his spiral towards death and that month before his surgery.
But when he woke up, he could breathe, without oxygen. He faced several months of recovery in the hospital, and has had some fairly hefty setbacks.
But he’s doing amazingly well.
“I’m able to take a full breath, without being exhausted,” Tucker said.
He remembers waking up, finding out he had new lungs, that there had been an international social media campaign for him – that he might live!
“I can’t express how touched I was when I was coming to and reading all these comments from strangers,” he said. “You know, ‘We love you. We believe in you. Keep breathing.’
People that donated large amounts of money that never met me before. Including people I know personally that couldn’t afford it. And everybody came together.”
He’s hoping, in a few months, that he’ll be allowed to send the family whose loss gave him his lungs, telling them he made it, that their sacrifice gave him the gift of life – that ability to breathe many of us take for granted.
He can laugh without straining. He’s riding his beloved bicycle again, hitting the weights, practicing his singing.
He wants to be in the best shape humanly possible, and not just to better his chances to live. He’s on a mission to raise awareness about organ donation and cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease so rare, research and assistance money is scarce.
That passion, that desire to help and reach others when he always had a scary burden to shoulder, was what rallied so many around him during the push to help Tucker breathe.
What he’s most grateful for, he said, is his story was heard far and wide, that it raised awareness of this rare disease and will likely help others with CF, including some kid who’s wondering how long he might get to live and breathe on this earth.
“It’s just incredible.”