A former Mt. Morris resident has defied the odds.
Elaine McKee, 46, now a resident of Dixon, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema, or destruction of the lungs over time.
In late 2008, McKee was told she had about two years to live. She was placed on the lung transplant list on Nov. 21, 2008.
Today, she is living in a handicapped-accessible apartment with her 15-year-old daughter, Madison, and two dogs.
Her fiance, Dan Raney, remains in Mt. Morris, and her 72-year-old mother, Beverly Ballard, is her primary caretaker.
She is waiting for a double-lung transplant.
McKee has suffered with respiratory issues for years. Her condition stems not from lifestyle (although she is a former smoker), but from genetics.
McKee has just 20 percent lung capacity. Her heart beats so quickly and her lungs are so enlarged that she has difficulty doing things that are easy for most people, such as getting dressed, going for a drive, and even just eating a meal.
"I always have to have someone with me to assist me," she said.
McKee slowly has lost her independence as her condition has worsened. She hasn't worked in years, no longer drives, and gets around in a wheelchair most of the time.
"It just slowly has gotten worse and worse," she said.
In summer 2010, McKee moved out of her home in Mt. Morris and into a home with her mother in Dixon.
She not only needed the assistance, but also required the main living spaces to be on one ground-level floor. The situation was not ideal, though.
Ballard was caring for a 13-year-old grandson who has Asperger's syndrome, and McKee's three children eventually moved in, too. The two-bedroom house was crowded, loud and stressful.
"I was basically confined to a bedroom," McKee said.
This winter, McKee sought her own place ñ a handicapped-accessible apartment where she could comfortably get around in her wheelchair.
She struggled to find a place that would let her rent, though, because someone had run up a $2,500 electricity bill in her name in Mt. Morris and it remained unpaid.
Ballard called in a favor to a banker friend and borrowed money on her car to cover the outstanding bill.
McKee and her daughter moved in this past weekend to a small apartment with wide hallways and doorways, a handicapped-accessible bathroom, and lower countertops and cupboards in the kitchen.
Her other two children have found their own places.
"I have a little more independence now," she said. "It means a lot. It means being a mother to my daughter and just having something of my own life again."
But McKee has a lot of medical expenses that her limited income — she barely scrapes by on her monthly disability payment — cannot cover.
A family friend urged her to set up a fundraising site on YouCaring.com.
Money would help not only with mounting medical expenses, but also trips to and from Chicago, which she makes every three months — unless she gets a transplant, in which case, she would be there every three weeks.
McKee and her family hope people will consider giving a little.
"It would mean a lot," she said.
"Even just a dollar," her daughter, Madison, added. "People think their donation won't help much, but it does a lot more than they think."
McKee maintains a sunny disposition despite her condition. She dreams of going back to Mt. Morris, of moving in with her fiance, and walking — not wheeling — down the aisle.