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Marathon for Mom: Avon man becomes runner following mom's lung disease diagnosis

Mike Uehlein will never take his health for granted again.

AVON, Ohio — In the world of running, it's not always about how fast you go. It's about how far you've come.

For Mike Uehlein, running is a privilege. It's a lesson he learned when his mom got sick back in 2018.

He was never a runner before, but wasn't about to take for granted how he could breathe with ease.

"That's exactly what I thought ... about how grateful I am to have a set of great, working lungs, when she didn't," Mike told us.

Linda Uehlein was diagnosed with terminal lung disease back in 2018.

"I thought I had developed asthma from a cough that wouldn't go away," Linda said.

But it wasn't asthma. It was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

"The prognosis was good in the respect that I really was not symptomatic other than this cough," Linda explained.

That's what Mike thought, too.

"I was expecting, you know, okay, we've got another decade here, right? Being optimistic," Mike said.

After just a couple years, Linda's health rapidly declined.

"Shortness of breath, where I could barely walk, just to walk 10 feet," she told us.

It was a cruel contrast because as Mike's lungs grew stronger, Mom's were failing her.

"She was extremely sick. She was on so much oxygen," Dr. Marie Budev said.

Credit: Cleveland Clinic
Dr. Marie Budev, Cleveland Clinic and Linda Uehlein

Dr. Budev is the director of the Heart and Lung Transplant Program at Cleveland Clinic. Just one year ago, she delivered the life-altering news to Linda.

"She told me I would not come home without lungs. So, it was, you know, we were down to the very end. I was literally on death's doorstep," Linda said.

Her life, now a race against time.

"I was only in the hospital three hours ... nine o'clock at night. And, at 12:30 in the morning, they called and said, 'We have lungs for you,'" Linda told us. "I prayed for the surgeons that would do the surgery. And then I prayed for the family that was enduring the loss that they were going through at the time."

After weeks in the hospital, Linda came home to messages of love -- literally -- all around her. 

"People have been wonderful. It's just unbelievable. The support I have received," Linda said.

She's grateful for that support. She's grateful for the donor family. And, she's grateful for Dr. Budev.

"I could not ask for a better team than the Cleveland Clinic transplant team," Linda said. "I owe my life to her."

We spoke with a very busy Dr. Budev over Zoom. We told her how much Linda credited her with saving her life.

Through tears, she said this:

"It really touches me. The reason why we do what we do ... is for people like her."

Linda got a second chance, yet her health journey is far from over. A marathon, of sorts. So, in solidarity, Mike ran his own .... in Boston.

Mom couldn't be there for that finish. But she was there for the next one right here in Cleveland.

A few hours after Mike took off he appeared among the crowd headed for the finish line. His whole family looked on. They were ready for that moment. This year, was a marathon for them, too.

As Mike crossed, he nodded to up above. Then, made his way over to the open arms of his mom.

"My family right here. Every step of the way. Thank you guys," he told them through tears.

For Linda, being there was an honor.

"I'm so thankful for today that I can be here to see this," she said.

Getting here hasn't been easy, But the Uehlein family has many more finish lines to cross ... together.

After he finished Cleveland, Mike said to Mom:

"I love you so much. Thank you for inspiring me. I got many marathons in front of me and so do you."

"I love you, too, Michael. Thank you for all your love and support," Linda said.

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