For the first time since he was about seven years old, J.D. Cross walked more than 20 feet last Sunday without having to take a break or rely on an oxygen tank.

Powered by a set of new lungs and unshakable optimism, every step of Cross’ journey defied grim medical statistics and a legion of doctors who were skeptical the Missoula 20-year-old would ever live this long– or experience a walk through Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

“It was awesome– we walked miles,” Cross described of the turning point in his life.

“It feels so good to walk more than 15 feet without having to take breaks,” said Cross, who is just nine weeks out from lung transplant surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center.

“It’s weird not having a hose strapped to my face and not carrying around a 10-pound oxygen tank.”

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In what their longtime Missoula physician describes as “lightning striking twice,” Cross and his brother Wesley, 18, were born with an extremely rare form of lung disease– ABCA3 surfactant deficiency– that causes deadly scarring of the lung tissue.

On Dec. 1, Wesley will mark his two-year anniversary of living with new lungs. He will honor the occasion by continuing with his multiple weekly physical and occupational therapy sessions at Community Medical Center.

Unlike his brother’s successful post-surgery outcome, Wesley had multiple strokes after his transplant.

The unexpected event immediately left the right side of his body paralyzed and caused swelling to his brain, which forced doctors to remove about a third of his skull and to put him in a medically induced coma for about a month, he said.

Aside from his mother Daniele, sister Ashley and other family members, few people expected Wesley would live through the trauma. If he did, he would likely never walk or speak again. But like his big brother, Wesley’s will to thrive was greater than any medical prediction.

“I was angry and scared at the same time,” Wesley said as he described what it was like to awaken to his new physical challenges. “But when I started to move my leg, it gave me hope.”

“We started doing the happy dance when we saw a foot move,” Ashley said. “He was in a coma a long time, and we waited a long time for any sign. When he did, the doctors thought we were imagining it until they saw it for themselves– and then they were surprised.”

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