NEW GLOUCESTER – When the high school track coach told George Carman that it wasn’t a good idea for him to join the team, Carman started running 10 miles a day to be ready for the first practice.

When his doctor recommended he give up his dream of being a firefighter, he joined his local volunteer department and signed up for every training session available.

When his wife called him inside after noticing he was gasping for air, he continued mowing the lawn until the entire yard was done.

“I’ve always done everything I wanted to do,” Carman said.

For 38 years, the New Gloucester firefighter has refused to let his ailing lungs get in his way.

But cystic fibrosis doesn’t let up.

A genetic disease that produces mucus, it continues to clog and infect a person’s lungs until they stop working. With Carman’s lung capacity currently at 37 percent, he anticipates that it is only a matter of time before he’ll need a double transplant.

His doctor has begun the process of getting him on the donor list, and Carman and his wife, Amy, have begun to plan for the disruption.

The transplant will be performed at a hospital in New York City, and Carman will likely have to move there at some point so he can be ready when lungs become available.

People who have gone through the procedure told him that he’ll need thousands of dollars simply for lodging and food.

Carman’s friends and family, including members of the New Gloucester Fire Department, know how he is.

They know he hates watching someone else plow his driveway. They know he hates stepping aside at a fire scene when he can’t breathe. They know he hates having to rely on anyone for anything.

So they decided to take over.

Tonight, they are hosting a dance at a local country club to raise money for Carman’s temporary move to New York. So far, they have sold about 300 tickets.

Carman, who works full time at an Auburn truck dealer, isn’t sure how he feels about the fund-raiser. He’s still getting used to the idea of a having a transplant.

He always knew that his lungs would eventually give out. But he used to think that he would simply die when that time came.

He wanted the healthy lungs to go to someone who hadn’t done the things he had done – someone who didn’t become captain of the high school track team, someone who hadn’t met and married the person of their dreams, someone who couldn’t imagine getting up at 2 a.m. to rush to a burning building and help put out a fire.

Then, five years ago, something happened. Carman and his wife had a daughter, Antoinette. And Carman changed his mind.

“If a transplant is what it will take to see her graduate from high school or walk her down the aisle, then that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I guess you can say my priorities changed.”

Given the long waiting list for donors, Carman will likely not have the operation until his lung capacity drops to about 17 percent, and it is impossible to know when that will happen.

In the meantime, he is learning to accept that he’ll likely need to carry a portable oxygen tank at some point.

Letter

Carman was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was born. He spent the first nine months of his life in the hospital, the first six years sleeping in a special oxygen tent.

The doctor who diagnosed Carman told his mother he wouldn’t live four days. These days, the average life expectancy for people with the disease is under 35, according to the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

It wasn’t until last year that Carman allowed his condition to get him down.

He was admitted to the hospital to be treated for an infection after his lung capacity dropped to about 25 percent. One night, when he couldn’t sleep, he wrote a letter to the chief of the New Gloucester Fire Department.

A tall, thin man with a long mustache and serious eyes, Carman cried as he wrote about his decision to retire for health reasons.

Although his duties had always been confined to driving the truck, pumping water and doing other things that didn’t involve going inside the burning buildings, he was afraid the other firefighters had started resenting him for not being able to do as much.

The chief called as soon as he got the letter to inform Carman that he wasn’t accepting his retirement. Later in the year, Carman was chosen by the other members of the department as Firefighter of the Year.

What: “Lungs for George” fund-raising dance

Where: Spring Meadows Country Club, Route 100, Gray

When: Friday night

Tickets: $15 per person; $25 per couple (must be bought in advance)

For more information, call Amy at 926-5170 or New Gloucester Fire/Rescue at 926-4142.

Donations may be sent to the New Lungs for George account, Katahdin Federal Credit Union, 1000 Central St., Millinockett, ME 04462


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