BEAT­ING THE ODDS

Since be­ing di­ag­nosed with Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis as a baby, Texas team roper Wes­ley Glover was told he wouldn’t live to age 12. Now, at age 48, he’s on the re­cov­ery end of a dou­ble-lung trans­plant and has his eye on the 2018 World Se­ries of Team Rop­ing Fi­nale.

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Features - by G.R. Schi­a­vano

Since be­ing di­ag­nosed with Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis as a baby, Texas team roper Wes­ley Glover was told he wouldn’t live to age 12. Now, at age 48, he’s on the re­cov­ery end of a dou­ble-lung trans­plant and has his eye on the 2018 World Se­ries of Team Rop­ing Fi­nale.

“Ev­ery time a doc­tor has ever given him a time­line—whether it was to die, or to be laid up, or what­ever—he al­ways beat it.”

Chico Hines and Wes­ley Glover have been best buds for the past 35 years or so, and when Wes­ley called Chico to let him know the doc­tors had found a match for Wes­ley and he was head­ing to the hos­pi­tal for his dou­ble-lung trans­plant, Chico got scared for a mo­ment.

“My first thought was, this might be the last time I talk to my friend. I started get­ting a lit­tle bit up­set and then I thought, he’s beat ev­ery­thing he’s ever been up against. I knew God was go­ing to heal him and he’d be bet­ter than he’s ever been.”

That was the night of July 3. Wes­ley got his new lungs the next day, for Cow­boy Christ­mas.

In a phone in­ter­view on Septem­ber 1, Wes­ley is at home in Lul­ing, Texas, for the first time since his surgery, two months and four days post-trans­plant. At this stage of re­cov­ery, his big­gest threat is in­fec­tion, and with Hur­ri­cane Har­vey threat­en­ing to flood the apart­ment build­ing he was stay­ing in near the Hous­ton Methodist J.C. Wal­ter Jr. Trans­plant Cen­ter, where he re­ceived his trans­plant, his doc­tors gave the okay for an early home­com­ing. It will be Novem­ber be­fore Wes­ley will be free to go out to crowded restau­rants or shake hands with peo­ple, but he’s feel­ing pretty good none­the­less.

“Be­fore I had my trans­plant, my lung func­tion was down to 17 per­cent. That was all I had left. And I’m now up to 65 per­cent, so things are a whole lot eas­ier than they were, say, in April.”

When asked how long it had been since his lungs had last func­tioned at 65 per­cent, Wes­ley an­swers with “Never.” At least not since he’s been keep­ing track for the last 25 years, when 50 per­cent was the best he ever saw.

“What is in­cred­i­ble about Wes­ley,” Dr. Tara Barto, Wes­ley’s pul­mo­nolo­gist at Hous­ton’s Bay­lor St.

Luke’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter, says, “is that he had sig­nif­i­cant im­pair­ment, based off of med­i­cal records, for more than a decade, and it is as­ton­ish­ing that he has been able to do what he was do­ing for the last 10 years.”

In 2009, Wes­ley’s doc­tors in­formed him that, at age 40, 28 years be­yond his ini­tial life ex­pectancy, he had end-stage Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis (CF)—a thus-far in­cur­able ge­netic dis­or­der that most notably causes chronic and pro­gres­sive res­pi­ra­tory is­sues. In short, a thick mu­cus in­vades the body’s or­gans. In ad­di­tion to the lungs, the si­nuses, in­testines, and the re­pro­duc­tive tract are af­fected, as well as the pan­creas, which helps the body di­gest food and cre­ates in­sulin. Be­cause the flu­ids are hard to mo­bi­lize, si­nus and res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions are preva­lent, and pan­cre­atic is­sues mean pa­tients can eat and eat and never gain a pound, while also be­ing at risk for diabetes.

When Wes­ley was di­ag­nosed at 6 months old, his doc­tors weren’t nec­es­sar­ily wrong to pre­dict a short life­span. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Health, CF may have pre­sented it­self as early as 3000 BC, but even by the 1960s, few med­i­cal ad­vances for the dis­ease had been made, and peo­ple with CF rarely be­came teenagers, didn’t go to col­lege and didn’t have ca­reers. They just didn’t live long enough to do so. But Wes­ley had other plans.

“When they tell you some­thing,” Wes­ley ex­plains, “in your mind, you just gotta be­lieve some­thing else.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wes­ley, it wasn’t the doc­tors that got him down as a kid. It was the day a school­mate came to him and ques­tioned why Wes­ley both­ered go­ing to school if he was just go­ing to die.

“That’s why I started rop­ing. Be­cause I needed to have some­thing to mo­ti­vate me—to get me up, get me go­ing. So, at 12 years old, that’s what I did.”

For any­one who has ever mounted up, swung a rope and chased a steer down, you are pretty fa­mil­iar with the phys­i­cal de­mands of rop­ing. You may also un­der­stand how set­ting your mind to the task of train­ing your horses and your­self and per­fect­ing your throw could serve as men­tal mo­ti­va­tion for an in­di­vid­ual look­ing to over­come a set of chal­lenges. But what is re­mark­able about Wes­ley be­com­ing—and thriv­ing as—a team roper is the very phys­i­cal deficits caused by CF and the in­ten­sive daily care re­quired to main­tain it.

“It’s not just tak­ing a pill or do­ing an in­haler,” Dr. Barto says of liv­ing with CF. “It’s time con­sum­ing and it’s un­pleas­ant. It’s ther­a­pies that make you cough, that make you get rid of the mu­cus in your lungs. It’s tak­ing pills ev­ery time you eat and mon­i­tor­ing your blood su­gar. It’s do­ing si­nus rinses. There are a lot of care bur­dens as­so­ci­ated with CF.”

For lots of folks, the care alone is ex­haust­ing and de­mor­al­iz­ing, and Chico, who rodeo’d with Wes­ley in high school and col­lege, knows it’s a rare man who will will­ingly sign on for more.

“What he had to do ev­ery­day to be able to get on a horse, I don’t know that many peo­ple who are will­ing to put out that kind of ef­fort. I’ve seen him on days where we’d be at the ho­tel and, for­get the rodeo, I’m just hop­ing he gets to where he can breathe enough to get home.”

In­cred­i­bly, un­til very re­cently, only the peo­ple clos­est to Wes­ley even knew he was liv­ing with the dis­ease. With the ex­cep­tion of reach­ing out to other CF pa­tients and fam­i­lies as a men­tor, Wes­ley had no in­ter­est in giv­ing peo­ple a rea­son to feel sorry for him, and he cer­tainly would never use his health to sway his num­ber in the arena.

Due to Wes­ley’s iron will, the cough­ing fits, the need to eat and sleep when­ever pos­si­ble and the in­abil­ity to get oxy­gen into his

lungs were no match. As his dis­ease per­sisted, so did he, de­vot­ing him­self to his care and his heel­ing, which was even­tu­ally spon­sored by brands like Cac­tus Ropes, Atas­cosa Dodge, and RopeS­mart. But, by this past May, Wes­ley’s lung func­tion was down to 17 per­cent.

“Walk­ing across the kitchen was be­com­ing more and more dif­fi­cult,” Wes­ley re­mem­bers.

He was on oxy­gen, and his doc­tors were ready to put him on the trans­plant list, so that if a match­ing set of lungs be­came avail­able, Wes­ley would be el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive them. Which makes his May 27 win at the Mathews Land and Cat­tle #11 WSTR Qual­i­fier in Sin­ton, Texas, ex­tra­or­di­nary, in the most truth­ful sense of the word. Aboard Sheila, a horse he bor­rowed from Chico as his horse was crip­pled up, Wes­ley heeled his steers for an av­er­age time of 31.13 sec­onds af­ter part­ner Cole Lamb turned them for a win­ning check in the amount of $10,280. He had known it was time to go on the list, but he also knew he wanted to get one more rop­ing in, be­fore his life would change for­ever.

“Trans­plant

is a hard de­ci­sion,” says Brandy Hut­son. “For many years, he said he would not do it.” Brandy and Wes­ley have been to­gether for 17 years, and she’s been by his side the whole time—a fact that, in ad­di­tion to Wes­ley’s per­se­ver­ance, con­trib­utes greatly to his suc­cess in liv­ing with CF, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Barto, and will greatly con­trib­ute to the like­li­hood of his suc­cess post-trans­plant.

Just like CF pa­tients are now liv­ing into adult­hood (ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics, the av­er­age life ex­pectancy for a per­son with Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis in the United States is 42 years old, a trend that has been on an up­ward tra­jec­tory), trans­plant pa­tients no longer have to con­sider an or­gan trans­plant a last-ditch Hail Mary. To be clear, or­gan trans­plant is still a sig­nif­i­cant surgery, but it’s also rea­son­able to think a pa­tient who sur­vives the surgery and the first year of re­cov­ery may also get to ex­pe­ri­ence a greatly im­proved qual­ity of life.

To­gether, Wes­ley and Brandy have over­come great odds right from the getgo. About six months af­ter they started dat­ing, Brandy was di­ag­nosed with a rare form of cancer.

“I re­mem­ber very vividly,” Brandy re­calls, “I went to my on­col­o­gist to get my re­sults and they weren’t good. The guy said, ‘this is life threat­en­ing. You are look­ing at a 20-per­cent sur­vival rate.’”

When Brandy, who was 29 at the time, didn’t re­act as a “typ­i­cal” per­son might, she of­fered her doc­tor some per­spec­tive.

“I said, ‘You don’t un­der­stand. I’ve been healthy for 29 years. Wes­ley has fought his whole life. What­ever comes, we’ll deal with it. We are a team.’”

Wes­ley agrees.

“I had the surgery,” he states, “but we’re both go­ing through it.”

Much like team rop­ing, luck only gets you so far. Then, it’s about the work that ev­ery­one is will­ing to do. When Wes­ley won that World Se­ries qual­i­fier in May, it was all he could do to pull him­self to­gether af­ter a run.

“Dur­ing the run it­self, if your adrena- line is pump­ing, you don’t feel it. But as soon as your run’s over, it’s like get­ting your breath knocked out of you and hav­ing ice picks stuck in your back.”

It was a sen­sa­tion that Wes­ley was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing no mat­ter what kind of run he made—prac­tice runs, jack­pots, qual­i­fiers, what­ever—and even­tu­ally he fo­cused on USTRC and World Se­ries rop­ings, where the for­mats al­lowed Wes­ley to lit­er­ally catch his breath be­tween runs. Out­side the arena, Brandy, who also main­tains a ca­reer as an ac­coun­tant for a sports medicine sup­ply dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany, was tak­ing care of the rest.

“My life re­volves around team rop­ing and, quite hon­estly, I be­lieve I'm alive to­day be­cause of it."

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