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Family breathing easier now that money isn#8217;t an obstacle

When Martina Natoli found out she had cystic fibrosis, she wasn’t scared.

When doctors told her parents that the now-14-year-old would need a double-lung transplant, she wasn’t afraid.

When her family learned that the operation would cost about $125,000, Martina still wasn’t frightened.

Maybe that’s why it’s been so easy for her to lead everyone through a battle that’s hopefully nearing its end.

In about seven months, the area came together to raise enough money for her transplant. Now it’s a question of waiting.

Last week, Martina, formerly of Suffolk, and now a resident of Virginia Beach, went to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters with breathing problems. To receive the transplant, a patient’s lung capacity must be between 25 and 35 percent n Martina’s is estimated at 31 percent, but there are no organs available right now. She’s now receiving antibiotics through an IV, oxygen and treatments to break up the mucus in her lungs.

“We could get a call any day,” says her mother Tina, watching her daughter relaxing in bed. “This has been such a blessing. People just came out of the woodwork to get things going.”

The trek began Jan. 9 and 16 with dinners at the Atlantic Shores Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, bringing in more than $900. The Polar Bear Motorcycle Run the next month raised in excess of $16,000. Arena Racing and Langley Speedway donated a night’s proceeds to Martina, as did a Chesapeake IHOP restaurant. Her former classmates at Forest Glen Middle School raised nearly $700 selling bracelets, and her classmates at Princess Anne Middle School held several events.

At the end of June, the need had been met. By now, roughly $160,000 has arrived, and money not used for the transplant itself has been used for Martina’s current medical needs, which have risen past $10,000 this year.

“It was fun going to each event and introducing myself,” Martina says. “Knowing how much people cared was a shock.”

Another group knew what the family was going through. Throughout much of 2004, Emily Haley’s friends and family raised roughly $500,000 for Emily’s own double-lung transplant (insurance limits forced them to raise more than Martina’s family). Emily’s uncle Mike Tora put out collection canisters at about 70 local businesses.

“It was kind of neat,” he says. “Our families met in May, and we’d just had a very successful campaign. We wanted to just be a part of it. We had been given a blessing, and now we wanted to share it.”

Emily’s lungs are still too strong for her to qualify for a transplant, said her father Bill.

“We’re overjoyed that financial issues are not an issue for the Natolis,” Bill says. “That can be a huge headache, and you don’t need that when you’re going through a transplant. Their goal wasn’t quite as high as ours, but they had really good support from the community also. After I saw what happened with us, I wasn’t surprised.”

Last weekend, Martina started feeling tired and short of breath, and Tina figured that it was time for another trip to the hospital.

“We hope to go home later this week,” she said. “She’s doing tons better than she was before. When she got here, she was on 24-hour oxygen; now it’s just at night.

“She’s as tough as nails,” Tina says, tears appearing in her eyes. “She’s 10 times tougher than we are. We know it’s hard for her, but she makes it easy for us because she’s excited and ready to have it done.”

That’s quite the understatement.

“I want new lungs so I can stay out of the hospital,” Martina says. “I’m a little scared sometimes, but happiness takes over because I’ll be better when I get new lungs.”