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Lung transplant prospect leans on faith, family

Local on list for double transplant

Lung transplant prospect leans on faith, family

Lung transplant prospect leans on faith, family

Mae Riggs, who has a rare lung diseas...

In sickness and in health. Some couples profess the vow lightly, but Mae and Tony Riggs have had much practice honoring that commitment, especially recently, as Mae awaits a double-lung transplant.
    Mae calls their 26-year marriage a journey. And what a journey it’s been.
    Their love story begins at Statesboro High School – well, sort of. Tony says of Mae, “When I first saw her walking the halls of SHS, I knew then there was something special about her.”  
    Mae says of Tony: “I don’t remember him.”
    They both chuckle about that, but their paths would not cross until later, when Mae was attending Georgia Southern College to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration. 
    Mae remembers slipping across the street to Burger King for a quick bite and seeing Tony, the manager. With a smile, she adds, “And I kept going back.”
Unbeknownst to Tony at the time, he was serving the same cute girl he’d noticed during school.
“She would come in for her regular Whopper Jr.,” says Tony. “Again, I could tell there was something nice about her and I wanted to meet her, but I was hesitant. You see, I wanted the Lord to bring me the right person, and I knew if I got involved, I would mess it all up.”
Eventually, after many burgers crossed the counter, the couple ran into each other at the Statesboro Regional Library and Mae introduced herself. It was only after some discussion that the two figured out they’d actually been in high school together.
Tony says, “Her sweet and soft-spoken personality won me over, and to top it off, she was totally sold out to God.”
Shortly after a triple-couple wedding ceremony that the Statesboro Herald reported on in 1988, Tony and Mae moved to Texas and then to Oklahoma City for Tony to attend Bible college. During that time, Mae began to present various symptoms that would eventually lead to a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease lupus.
Tony considered moving back to Statesboro to have family support, but through prayer, felt God leading him differently.
Mae said, “We believe God told us, ‘You just focus on what I called you to do, and I’ll take care of both of you.’”
Mae said she was blessed to be under the care of a wonderful, Christian doctor who often took her records home to study and pray over.
By the time Tony finished school in 1995 and the couple returned to Statesboro, Mae’s lupus was under control. Yet she prayed, “Lord, please heal me of this lupus; it’s slowing me down.”
Between the births of her two children – miracle kids, Joshua, 17, and Nicole, 11, as she calls them since doctors had advised her not to have children – Mae saw a kidney doctor who told her there was no evidence of lupus.
“I’d prayed for that, but I was shocked when the doctor told me,” Mae said. “I told him to do the test again.”
Yet Mae’s health issues were not over. 
While pregnant with Nicole, Mae’s lungs collapsed three times. When doctors saw that her lungs’ smooth muscles were filled with cysts, she was diagnosed in 2002 with a rare lung disease,  Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). 
Medical professionals told Mae the disease gets progressively worse and insinuated she had nine to 10 years to live.
Mae breathes with help of an oxygen tank around the clock and just last year was placed on a waiting list for a double lung transplant.
“It certainly made me see how important it is to be a donor,” Mae said. “When I renewed my license this time, I checked to be a donor.
“The Lord has blessed me with family, friends, church family God knew I was going to need someone strong in the faith,” she continued. “Tony really encourages me and I couldn’t have made this journey without his encouragement and support.”
Mae says her kids are wonderful helpers, often moving her oxygen tubes or lifting the tank or plugging in her portable car tank.
“They say, ‘Mom, we know you’re coming down the hall, we hear the tube dragging,’” she said.
“God has me on a journey, but it doesn’t mean I’m not able to be used by God,” Mae added. “Everyone has something they are going through. I want others to know that there’s hope. Life is doable only because of the grace of God.”
Mae quotes Joshua 1:5: “God says, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ He has a pathway laid out.”
Tony, a probation officer and an ordained minister, sings his wife’s praises.
“In spite of all she has faced, her sweet spirit comforts us,” he said. “These tests and trials have helped us to have a deeper faith and love for God and each other. I know it has been our dependence on God that has kept our marriage strong. Because of his love for us individually, it helps us to love one another despite the circumstances we face.
“She’s not only my lovely wife, but my hero in the faith,” he added. “I continually ask God to help me love her like she so deserves.”

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