A Washington man with a fatal lung disease completed the Seattle Marathon, one small step at a time while dragging an oxygen tank behind him.
Evans Wilson, 63, has pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension — heart and lung afflictions that overwork both organs and make breathing an unholy burden.
He was a longtime runner and race competitor before bad knees made him give up both. He took to walking instead, until one day a few years ago, “I got to the top of this really steep hill and I couldn’t catch my breath,” he told InsideEdition.com. He called his wife, but could only wheeze into his cell phone.
Thus began a journey of nearly three years, searching for a diagnosis. Doctors couldn’t replicate his spasmodic breathing on a treadmill stress test. One even suggested he was a hypochondriac, he said.
Eventually, it was determined he had PF, a fatal condition marked by scarring of the lungs. He also had pulmonary hypertension, an ailment marked by an enlarged heart.
But he was determined to call attention to his disease, which he says claims as many victims as breast cancer. Walking the 26.2 miles of his hometown’s marathon was good way to do it, he thought.
“Sometimes you have to do something that’s just a little dramatic if you want to get some attention,” he said.
The retired real estate agent is raising funds on a FirstGiving page for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. So far he’s received more than $20,000 towards his goal of $50,000.
He’s tried to raise awareness about the prevalence of pulmonary fibrosis in various ways, including dying his hair blue, the color associated with the disease in the same way that pink denotes breast cancer awareness.
But his fellow Seattle residents thought the hue was his dedication to the Seahawks, the hometown NFL team.
His FirstGiving page, and all the attention he has received in local media outlets for participating in the marathon with an oxygen tank, seems to have given Wilson his biggest boost in highlighting his disease.
He thought it would take him 13 hours to walk the marathon route. Organizers gave him a 90-minute head start. With his oxygen mask strapped to his face, Wilson set off at 6 a.m. and finished in just under 11 hours.
"The first 10 miles went pretty well," he said. "Then it got hard... I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish by mile 17."
But his wife was there, as was a volunteer who switched his oxygen tanks when they ran out, and to drop out in front of them after their support and hard work "would have been pretty wimpy," he said.
He hopes that his regular exercise regime, and being blessed with long-living relatives, will help prolong his life.
“I’m really fortunate I have good genes,” he said. “My mom is almost 102. She was living on her own and driving until she was almost 99.”