VIPER — Tony Lewis is entering the Holiday Season in need of a Christmas miracle, but his miracle will not result in a trendy new gadget or sparkling jewels. Instead, his Christmas miracle will allow him to live for another year. Lewis’s gift is not manufactured in Santa’s workshop. You cannot shop for it online or at the mall. The only place to find the gift Tony Lewis needs is inside the hearts of his neighbors, living in the community he has selflessly served throughout his entire existence.
Lewis is currently suffering from Stage 4 of Sarcoidosis, which is a rare lung disease. Sarcoidosis causes tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of the body to grow rapidly. Stage 4 is the final stage of the disease, meaning that Lewis has reached dire status. Without proper treatment, doctors project that he only has a short number of months to live. During those months, his disease will strengthen, until finally it suffocates him.
“The only way I can think of to explain it,” Lewis said of his disease, “It is like somebody has a hand capped over my nose and mouth and just a little bit of air is all that can get through.”
Lewis’s oxygen treatments provide little relief. Breathing is a struggle and his coughs are often intense enough to produce blood. The situation is drastic and time is of the essence.
“With every day that passes, it is going to be harder to fight,” said Lewis.
However, there is hope that Lewis can, not only continue living, but also enjoy his continued life without crippling complications from the disease. The Lung Institute in Nashville, Tennessee has introduced a regenerative medical procedure they say helps people suffering from chronic pulmonary conditions such as Sarcoidosis. The Lung Institute uses stem cells in this revolutionary treatment. Research shows there is an 84.5 percent success rating in quality of life for patients, who undergo the therapy. Research also shows that 4 out of 5 patients see an increase of 10 percent or more in their pulmonary function according to a Lung Institute Pulmonary Function Test. This treatment could extend Tony Lewis’s life anywhere from 6 months to 30 years.
Lewis is the father of 3 sons, ages 30, 19 and 11. Throughout his battle, Tony Lewis remains brave, crediting his family, his friends, his church and God for helping him maintain strength. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Lewis said,
“If it is my time, I am ready to go home, but my boys’ have so much life left and I want to be part of it. I want to live.”
Tony Lewis’s treatment will cost $7,500 to begin, which is a steep price to pay for the simple act of taking a breath, especially for a man on a fixed income. As Lewis and his loved ones gather their resources, precious days continue to fall from the calendar. Hope for Lewis lingers within the community he loves and served for many years as a volunteer.
From 1997 to 2005, Lewis held the position of PRIDE Coordinator for Perry County. PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment) was a state environmental initiative that Lewis helped create with Congressman Hal Rogers, among others, including General Bigfort, a One Star General in Frankfort. Lewis devoted an overwhelming number of hours and days to cleaning up the beautiful mountains of Perry County, providing his own vehicle and never asking for a dime. In 2001, Lewis became a member of the Masonic Lodge. According to Lewis, several Masons have reached out to him since his diagnosis. For his contributions to his community, Tony Lewis was deemed a Kentucky Colonel, one of the highest civilian honors bestowed upon a citizen in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Even with all the kindness he has showered upon the community, Lewis finds it difficult to reach out for help in this terrible time. Tony’s loved ones, on the other hand, have launched an effort to secure victory for him.
“Every day I wake up, I thank God,” Lewis said.
An account has been established at Community Trust Bank in Hazard to accept donations for Tony Lewis’s treatments. Contributions at Community Trust Bank can be made to the Tony Lewis Sarcoidosis Fund. A Go Fund Me page has also been launched and can be accessed at www.gofundme.com/tonys-sarcoidosis-treatment.
If each citizen of Hazard gave Tony Lewis $1.50 for Christmas, the town would be giving Tony the possibility of further life. For Perry County as a whole, the cost of the gift would equal roughly one quarter per resident. But Tony Lewis’s message for the Holidays transcends presents and price tags. Heading into a Christmas he hopes and prays is not his last, Tony Lewis says,
“Material things don’t mean anything. Family and friends are the most important thing. Everybody needs to live every day like it is their last.”
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.