CHRONIC lung disease sufferer Kevin Burton is used to having to catch his breath - even a short walk can leave him gasping for air.
But the theft of the 72-year-old Grafton resident's portable oxygen tank last week truly knocked the wind out of him.
Now the family has appealed for the person who took the tank to hand it in, if only for the fact that without its battery charger and connections, it would be of no use to them at all.
The oxygen tank went missing on Wednesday, after Mr Burton parked his mobility scooter at the food court entrance to Grafton Shoppingworld for a coffee and a massage.
His daughter Kirsty White said while he had to take things slow, his frequent trips to the centre were an important part of his daily exercise.
"His mobility scooter and his oxygen tank are his only means of leading a mostly normal life and they mean that he can travel to the grocery store and do his best to be self-reliant," Ms White said.
The father of six has left the machine on his scooter many times before without incident, so when he returned to it on Wednesday - very much in need of oxygen - he couldn't believe it. All that was left was a cord which had been ripped out of the expensive machine.
"I was cranky when it happened, but I couldn't breathe enough to argue at the time," he said.
"I hard a hard time getting to the machine and it was that bad I didn't even see it was missing at first."
Management at Grafton Shoppingworld tried to assist Mr Burton by looking through CCTV footage, but a week later no arrests had yet been made.
Ms White said while she realised there was not much chance of it being returned, she wanted to warn other elderly people, people with disabilities and their family members to be careful.
"My father has struggled for many years with chronic lung disease, in which his lungs operate with very little capacity," she said.
"He is breathing out of a tiny part of one lung - that is it.
"Dad's freedom is one of the things that is keeping him healthy and happy, and someone has taken this away from him, and for what reason? An oxygen tank is no use to anyone apart from people who have this illness or another disease. He does not deserve this, and nor does anyone else."
It comes just months into Mr Burton's recovery from a near-death experience in January.
"I've always called dad my cat with nine lives," Ms White said.
"We nearly lost him and we've just tried to build him back up. They need to understand actions like this have health repercussions."
Ms White said one thing that had come out of the awful situation was support from the community.
"As much as we appreciate the offer of donations, for us, it's not about the money, it's the principle and to raise awareness for others who might think themselves otherwise safe from thieves because of their age or health status," she said.
Anyone with information about the theft can call CrimeStoppers on 1300888000.
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