Alpha Stories

Published on Tuesday, July 29, 2014

At 96, Alpha Mary Anne Ferguson sees every day as full of possibility, pleasure

At 96, Alpha Mary Anne Ferguson sees every day as full of possibility, pleasure

Mary Anne Ferguson comes from a family that is no stranger to longevity.

At 72, Ferguson was diagnosed with Alpha-1 and as she turns 96, she continues to enjoy life despite some obstacles.

In Pittsburgh, PA, she was first diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)  and Alpha-1 by a pulmonary specialist who found she had scar tissue from childhood tuberculosis.

“I was not alarmed when I was diagnosed knowing that my father had lived a long time after being ‘cured’ of tuberculosis,” Ferguson said.

Her father lived with TB for more than 10 years, which may have obscured the symptoms now identified as Alpha-1, but he “lived happily until he was 73 years old,” Ferguson said.

Her mother had a tubercular father and she may have also had Alpha-1, said Ferguson, but she lived until age 83 without any lung trouble.

Knowing her family history, she was treated for emphysema and believed she had mild asthma.

When she was told she had Alpha-1, she had no idea what it was.

“I was put on oxygen 24/7,” Ferguson said. “I was especially happy when the room-air oxygen system (the oxygen concentrator) was developed!”

In 2006, Ferguson contacted the Alpha-1 Foundation for information about her condition. She had never met another Alpha, and discovered that her next-door neighbor, who is 73, also has Alpha-1.

“He gets weekly infusions [of Alpha-1 protein] and is doing well,” Ferguson said.

Alpha-1 is not the only thing she has had to learn to live with.

In 2013, Ferguson had pneumonia and a lung collapse, leaving her with no function in her left lung “but still able to walk and talk — and over all, to think.”

She has also had heart arrhythmia, survived cancer three times and several other ailments over the years. But none of it has stopped her from doing all that she loves.

Ferguson has three daughters, one of whom is finishing her masters degree in choral singing at age 59. The other two have followed in the footsteps of Ferguson and her husband, becoming English professors. She also has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

She hopes her story will serve as affirmation for young people: Ferguson, who celebrated her 96thbirthday on July 25, she sees the possibilities for fun and adventure in every day.

“I have continued my lifelong habits of walking, doing crossword puzzles and traveling alone in the U.S. and abroad,” she said. “I also went regularly for over 17 years to rehab for lung patients … made new friends there, and we go out for lunch or a movie.”