A true love story: The Albrights face their greatest challenge together

— Photo from Tim Albright
Susan Albright is an outdoorswoman and, her husband says, together they have explored every nook and cranny of the Hederbergs.

NEW SCOTLAND — The nurse that admitted Susan Albright to Albany Medical Center immediately recognized her. Mrs. Albright had been his childhood teacher at Blessed Sacrament School.

Not only that, she had been his father’s teacher at Saint Margaret Mary’s.

Mrs. Albright, now 74, had taught first- through eighth-graders at Catholic schools for 30 years.

“When we go out together around town, the number of people who come up to her is amazing,” said Mrs. Albright’s husband, Tim. Her former students still call her Mrs. Albright. “They just revel in their memories of her,” he said.

Mrs. Albright was in Albany Med for heart surgery. She had an aortic aneurysm — a balloon-like bulge in the big artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso.

It had ballooned to the point where she needed surgery or faced what her cardiologist said would be an ugly death, her husband said.

The Albrights were warned, he said, that the surgery — performed in two separate operations — had a 97-percent success rate; 3 percent of patients could suffer paralysis or organ damage.

They took their chances.

The first surgery went well. The second surgery lasted over six hours. The next day, in the intensive-care unit, “her spine stroked from lack of blood,” her husband said, leaving her permanently paralyzed from the belly button down.

He spoke to The Enterprise on Friday and said that on Wednesday her collapsed left lung had been regaining capacity but on Thursday, it regressed. “She could hardly breathe,” he said. “She was scared.”

Fluid was drawn out with a big needle, and her recovery sputtered on. The goal is for Mrs. Albright to be taken from Albany Med to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady where she will get therapy and learn to use a wheelchair.

“I’m not big on accepting charity,” said Tim Albright. “But we need all the help we can get … There are so many unknowns.”

A long-time friend, Leslie Ellis, has set up a GoFundMe page that, as of Friday, had raised $15,000 of a $100,000 goal.

“They face many challenges, as you can imagine,” Ellis wrote of the Albrights on the page. “Ramps, lifts, wheelchairs, special vehicle and countless as of yet unknowns. Please be as generous as you would be if it were your wife, mother, sister, friend. Because she is all those things.”

Ellis was a bridesmaid at the Albrights’ wedding. The couple met through a mutual friend at Indian Ladder Farms. Tim Albright, who is now retired, eventually became the farm’s manager.

Indian Ladder Farms is holding a fundraiser for the Albrights on Friday, Sept. 22, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the upper pizza garden with live music by The College Farm, Union Depot, and The Seth Tucker Band.

Tim Albright was raised in New Scotland and is deeply interested in the town and its history.

Mrs. Albright was raised in Lake Placid in the Adirondacks and graduated from Potsdam. She is the daughter of two World War II veterans: Elise Fountain, originally from Iowa, had been a dental technician in the Navy while Fred Fountain had been a fighter pilot in the South Pacific. They had six children.

Both Albrights love the land. “She’s an outdoor woman,” Tim Albright said of his wife. “We hiked every nook and cranny of the escarpment. She loved to explore. She loved nature.”

He paused for a moment, noting that he was speaking in the past tense. “I don’t know where we’re going from here,” he said.

Mrs. Albright took four years off from teaching when their son, Jacob, was born in 1984. The family had lived on the farm and then, in 1990, bought what was once the Tygert Road schoolhouse.

“The Ten Eycks pulled it on a flatbed with a bulldozer,” he said, to its current location at the corner of Meadowdale and the Altamont-Voorheesville roads.

After buying the house from Indian Ladder Farms, Tim Albright researched the history of the shingled schoolhouse back to 1827; it was used for classes until 1939, he said.

“In 1990, the assessor said the two acres was worth more than the house,” he recalled. The house was rundown and the property, now a showplace, was “all prickers and poison ivy.”

The Albrights restored their home and landscaped their yard with great care and originality. Antique tractors are displayed on their property along with a Stonehenge-like circle of rocks from the Helderbergs.

Tim Albright believes his wife will revive when she returns home. Although the doctors have said the paralysis is permanent, he said, “I hold out hope for some little flicker.”

“She’s a very positive, happy, hardworking woman …,” he said. “She’s a big gardener. She’s big on flowers.” She also has blueberries and raspberries, which she uses in her baking, and what Tim Albright calls “the usual” — squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

“She has her best crop of zinnias this year,” he said.

Tim Albright plans on caring for his wife himself. He has his work cut out for him. “She’ll be catheterized the rest of her life, and be cleaned up all the time …,” he said. “We’ll have to work so her muscles don’t atrophy.”

Albright himself suffers from an inherited lung disability but is unfazed. He said his brother, Chris Albright, who has carpentry skills, has already helped with enlarging the entrance to their bathroom so that it can accommodate a wheelchair. He hopes to install an elevator in the living room and a ramp for entry on the east side of the building.

There are also financial hurdles ahead. “I’m trying to navigate Medicaid,” said Tim Albright, “so we have to liquidate our assets.” He has already sold the antique tractors he was rebuilding.

Together, with pension and Social Security, the Albrights’ annual income is about $40,000, he said.

The last few weeks have been tough, Tim Albright says. “For a few days in the ICU, she kept telling me she was dying. Looking at her, you’d have to wonder,” he said. “There’s all this fluid inside her and she formed a blood clot in one arm ….”

He stops for a moment, and then goes on, “Susan was always this very active person, gardening, working in the yard. She’s very compassionate and caring, always helping other people. She writes letters to people — for events, for birthdays, just to show she cares … She’s a very sweet, kind person who always pays attention.”

Being together is what is most important, he said. His wife would go to the five o-clock Mass at St. Matthew’s Church on Saturday so that she could be with him on Sunday mornings at the Methodist church.

In recent days, when his wife would ask him, “What am I living for?” he answered, “Because I need you.”

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