‘Blessed’: Navy veteran from Georgia gets life-saving transplant in Madison

Thanks to a team of doctors in Madison and the love from a brother, a Navy veteran can breathe with a new pair of lungs.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:58 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Thanks to a team of doctors in Madison and the love from a brother, a Navy veteran can breathe with a new pair of lungs.

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

Even an oxygen tank he hauled for two years was not enough. The 55-year-old dates it back to 1989 when he says he was around a lot of chemicals. He was stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as it was being built.

Earnest Ferguson
Earnest Ferguson(Courtesy of Robert Ferguson)

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

Ferguson had interstitial lung disease and pulmonary hypertension, according to Dr. Erin Lowery at the Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.

It was scarring in his lungs that affected both the lungs and the heart, Dr. James Maloney explained. The surgeon said Ferguson may not be living if it wasn’t for the transplant.

They became Ferguson’s doctors after the Georgia man decided to get a transplant in Wisconsin. The Madison VA is one of only three VA centers in the country to currently offer lung transplants, according to Dr. Lowery.

“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.”

Robert Ferguson remembers the surgery date, May 28, clearly. Earnest’s older brother, who like most of the nine Ferguson siblings, had also served in the military. He remained at the patient’s side for months.

It was also Robert who drove his “baby brother” to Madison, starting from his own home in a different state.

“I decided at that point that if I could do something for him that I would,” Robert said. “So I drove from Dallas to Athens, Georgia, to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments.”

Earnest 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.”

He’s looking forward to returning home to loved ones.

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

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