Wayne Albright, a regular at midget-car races in the Central Valley, is in a life-and-death battle with the flu at a New Mexico hospital.
In early January, Albright left on a trip to the midget-car nationals in Tulsa, Okla. He struggled with flu symptoms during the trip and became seriously ill while returning home.
Albright was admitted with breathing problems to the hospital in Grants on Interstate 40, between Gallup and Albuquerque.
Within a few days, he was placed on life support and was airlifted to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, where he remained in critical condition in an intensive care unit Tuesday. Doctors have kept him in a medically induced coma, family members said.
Albright, who is in his mid-50s, is expected to remain in the hospital for six to eight weeks. His wife, Judith, is with him at the hospital in Albuquerque. Supporters online wished him a “speedy” recovery and looked forward to seeing him at the races back home.
The Oakdale man often has taken his midget car to raceways in Stockton, Sacramento and other venues. His son, Dakota, has been racing the vehicle.
The family confirmed that Albright has H1N1 influenza, the primary cause for the severe flu season in California and other states this winter. “For a period of time, we thought we were going to lose him,” said Patrick Fesler, a brother-in-law in Idaho.
Given what happened to her husband, Judith Albright said, people need to take precautions to avoid catching the flu. “This is a horrible thing. Get your flu shots,” Judith said.
Fesler said Albright has lymphoma, which has weakened his immune system and made it difficult for him to battle the flu. Albright has worked at A.L. Gilbert Co. in Oakdale.
“Wayne is kind of a big teddy bear,” Fesler said of the 6-foot-2 car owner. “The last time I talked with him was when they came up here in the summer. I tried to get him to go fishing but he wanted to sit in the house and watch NASCAR. He loves his racing.”
Fesler said the family would like to return Albright to his doctors in California when he is ready. Insurance does not cover air transport, estimated to cost $20,000 or more.
Last week, state health officials said the number of flu-related deaths climbed to 147 in California, and an additional 44 fatalities were under investigation. The severe flu season has taken the lives of four children. According to the Department of Public Health, the flu season in 2012-13 resulted in 106 deaths in California.
As of last week, 12 people had died from influenza in Stanislaus County, four in San Joaquin County and three in Merced County.
Albright’s supporters have raised about $6,500 at www.healthdonor.com for a medical helicopter flight home. Those interested may contribute by going to www.healthdonor.com and typing “Wayne Albright” in the search field. Contributions also may be sent to the Wayne Albright Fund at Bank of the West, 134 S. Maag Ave., Oakdale 95361.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.