Mike Catterall holds a picture of Monrae Nash at his Lakewood, Calif., home on December 19, 2012. Nash was a 19-year old football player who was shot and
Mike Catterall holds a picture of Monrae Nash at his Lakewood, Calif., home on December 19, 2012. Nash was a 19-year old football player who was shot and killed in Victorville, California in 2004. Nash's parent donated his organs, including his lungs, which Catterall received. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Even today, Tracy Nash puts an ear to the chest of Mike Catterall to "hear her son breathe."

Catterall received a lung transplant from Tracy's son, Monrae Monraj Nash, a 19-year-old college student who was killed in 2004.

The Lakewood resident hasn't forgotten the gift, and has dedicated himself to volunteering and giving to others because of it.

In the mid-1990s doctors diagnosed Catterall with Alpha 1, a deadly hereditary lung disease.

By the time he retired in 2003, the disease had taken a toll on his lungs and doctors gave him one year to live.

"I was given two options - have a (lung) transplant or die," said the 59-year-old father and grandfather, who worked as a crane operator.

"The disease came on so fast and I went from a normal breathing person down to about 15 percent of my lungs functioning, and I couldn't make it but a few steps at a time, and not without my oxygen."

In January 2004, Catterall was accepted into a transplant program. Patients often wait years for a donor match, depending on the organ.

Three months later, on April 19, Catterall answered the lifesaving call. That night he was in surgery, and 11 days later, was home with a new perspective on life.

For a while he worked part time for the City of Lakewood driving the DASH bus, a transit service for seniors, and running the command vehicle for the Sheriff's Department.


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But it wasn't enough to fill the void left by retirement - until he heard about the city's Meals on Wheels program that provides meals to homebound seniors.

The volunteer work allowed him to reconnect with people after being so withdrawn during his illness, he said.

"I probably get more out of it than the seniors do just spending time talking to them," he said.

In addition to volunteering each week with Meals On Wheels in Lakewood, Catterall is also an ambassador for Donate Life, One Legacy and other organizations, speaking out to encourage organ donations.



After nearly a year of recovery, Catterall was determined to find the family of the person whose lungs had given him a new lease on life.

Almost a year from the day of his transplant he met the family of Nash, a Kansas State University freshman who had been home visiting family in Victorville when he was shot and killed.

"He's my hero - my savior," Catterall said, looking at the framed photo of Nash given to him by the family.

"Nine years ago, he died tragically, but before he died he had the forethought to donate his organs if anything ever happened to him."

Nash had recently graduated from high school and was attending KSU on a football scholarship.

When he died, Nash's heart, liver, kidneys and other tissues were donated. Catterall received both of Nash's lungs.

Although very grateful for life, it has been a bittersweet experience, said Catterall's wife of 31 years, Valinda.

"There are really no words to express except extreme gratitude," she said. "We are very fortunate to have my husband here, but at the same time it's a great loss for the family that lost their son."

The Catterall and Nash families continue to keep in touch.

"If there was a way I could give these lungs back and bring Monrae back, I would, because he means that much to me," Mike Catterall said, crying. "To find out who his family was and to meet them was the deepest moment (of) this, and I am so grateful to be alive to be there for my family. If only (Nash) knew what he has done for me."

pam.hale@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1476, twitter.com/PamelaHaleBurns