Hustle Chicago Climbers Reach New Heights for Lung Health

Several thousand people climbed to the top of an iconic Chicago skyscraper when Respiratory Health Association hosted its 23rd Hustle Chicago® stair climb on Sunday, February 23. Climbers took the stairwells up 875 N. Michigan Ave. to raise awareness and funds for local lung health and clean air programs.

man climbs stairs

“Since the event began in 1998, more than 66,000 climbers have helped raise $17 million for Respiratory Health Association,” said Joel Africk, President & CEO. “These funds support our mission to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change.”

Hustle Chicago® climbers make either a Full Climb of 1,632 steps and 94 floors or a Half Climb of 816 steps and 52 floors. The fastest male and overall climber was Jesse Berg from Chicago who finished in 10:19. The fastest female was Tricia Hess from Crystal Lake, IL who reached the top in 12:16. The 2020 event includes climbers from 26 states ranging in age from 5 to 81 years old. Three of this year’s climbers are lung transplant recipients. The average climb time for the Full Climb of 94 floors is 26 minutes.

“Every year we celebrate the incredible climbers not only for their accomplishment making it to the top, but also the impact they have on those living with lung disease,” commented Africk. “Their participation and fundraising supports the local fight against asthma, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases.”

More than 2,000 of this year’s climbers indicated they have been affected by lung disease or lung health concerns such as asthma, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, smoking, COPD or cystic fibrosis. With the help of climbers’ fundraising efforts, Respiratory Health Association estimates the event will raise $1 million.

Celebrating Organ Donors and the Lives They Impact

Every February, National Donor Day celebrates and recognizes those who changed the lives of others through organ donation. According to Donate Life America, 113,000 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for life-saving organ transplants. Thousands of those are living with lung cancer or other chronic lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis.

One person’s organ donation has the potential to save as many as eight lives of those in need.

Respiratory Health Association works with a number of people who have received a second chance at life through an organ donation. Each of them has dedicated their time to giving back in the hope of helping others living with lung disease.

Steve Ferkau     

“I am only here as a result of improved research and treatments into lung disease. I am a miracle of science and the generosity of my donor Kari and her family.”

 

 

 

 

man and woman outside

Tim Thornton

“It was surreal that you could go from not being able to breathe to thinking that you have a second chance with a new set of lungs. I am forever grateful to the donor’s family who made the decision to donate the gift of life.”

Read Tim’s story

 

 

 

man walks daughter down the aisle

Tom Earll

On the third morning after his transplant, Tom could see downtown Chicago from his bed. The sun rose, reflecting off the glass buildings. “I sat up and took a deep breath. I got hit with this wave of emotion, and I burst into tears because I realized that this was my new normal.”

Read Tom’s story  

To learn more about how organ donation can make an impact or to add your name to the donor registry, visit organdonor.gov.

Tim’s Climb Celebrates His Second Chance at Life

Written by Amanda Sabino with contributions from Tim Thornton

When Tim Thornton went skiing in March 2017, he didn’t think much of the fact he couldn’t keep up with his wife and daughter. He had always been physically active in a variety of sports and was used to the altitude – having previously lived in Colorado for 15 years – but supposed age was finally catching up with him. On a 7,000 foot elevation hike near Denver that same day, he completed just 300 feet. He sat on the side of the trail as his wife and daughter continued.

man and woman couple

Tim and his wife Malea on Mother’s Day 2019 shortly before his transplant.

That August, as Tim began to accept the slowdown of middle age, he went to his primary care physician with a persistent cough. A chest x-ray showed something abnormal, and a pulmonologist requested a CT scan.

It was just days before his son’s wedding when the CT results arrived, and Tim’s life changed forever. He was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic, incurable disease that causes scarring in the lungs and makes breathing difficult.

Though daunted by the diagnosis, Tim and his family remained optimistic. The wedding celebration went forward as planned. Tim describes the day as pure joy, watching his son begin a future with his new wife.

Even on a day of celebration, Tim continued to confront what his future would hold.

“It isn’t easy being told you have a terminal disease for which there is no cure,” Tim says. “The mental conflicts were enormous. In the back of my mind, I knew I had to face reality, but I also wanted to stay as positive as possible to focus on the goal of staying strong and getting better.”

Tim’s breathing continued to worsen through 2018, and although he danced at his work holiday party, by then his lung capacity was half that of healthy lungs.

Later that winter, Tim caught a virus. His lung capacity plummeted. He began 2019 on oxygen, both at work and at home. By March, his lung capacity was down to 30 percent of normal. He was put on the list to get a lung transplant.

Still, he remained optimistic. He wrote in a blog post that May, “The doctors continue to say they receive a couple of calls per day about possible matches, but they are not ‘quality.’… I am number 1 or 2 on this regional list so I am very optimistic. My health is stable…. I am thankful that my spirit and soul feel healthy and strong.”

Yet Tim found his spirit continuously tested. On May 12, he received a call from the transplant coordinator saying they had found a match. Tim checked-in for surgery that evening, only to find the transplant team had determined the new lungs were not the perfect match.

The wait continued. He knew the call could come at any time. For a transplant to work, however, everything has to go right. Even the common cold can prevent a recipient from receiving new lungs.

man getting breathing levels checked

Tim celebrates his new lungs and breathing like normal again.

“I had full faith in the system and the great people,” Tim says, describing his care team from Loyola University Chicago “You do start getting worried if everything is going to line up,” he admits.

A New Lease on Life

Dr. Dilling, Tim’s pulmonologist and clinical expert in lung transplants, would see him in the hospital halls walking around with his oxygen

tank. With a mixture of amusement and pride in his patient, he’d say, “every time I come around here you’re always walking around.”

Tim would respond with a hopeful smile and say, “Well, you told me to stay healthy.”

As Tim rested in the pre-ICU one night, the hospital bed phone rang. It was Dr. Dilling – and the normally reserved doctor sounded very excited.

man and woman outside

Tim and his daughter Lexi during “Dad’s Weekend” at the University of Illinois, shortly after his transplant.

“I think we found the perfect lungs for you.”

Once Tim confirmed he was ready, the wheels were set in motion. Half of the transplant team hurried to get the lungs in time. The other half of the team prepared for surgery.

Tim’s surgery went well, and within 24 hours of waking up his breathing was strong enough they took out the respirator. Not only was he breathing on his own, but he could even whistle. During the most challenging aspects of his recovery, this was the moment he held on to.

The roller coaster of mental challenges Tim endured has made him grateful every day. His journey with IPF and receiving a transplant inspired him to sign-up for Respiratory Health Association’s Hustle Chicago stair climb.

And every day, he’s able to exercise and train for a little bit longer. “It was surreal that you could go from not being able to breathe to thinking that you have a second chance with a new set of lungs,” he says. “I am forever grateful to the donor’s family who made the decision to donate the gift of life.”

Tim’s family will join him as part of the Loyola’s Lung Angels team for the February 23 climb at Hustle Chicago. To join Tim on his journey to fight IPF and help fundraise for lung disease research, click here.

Flu Season Continues into Spring

Preventing the Flu Among Adults with Asthma: Spring is Not Too Late for a Flu Shot!

People living with asthma are not more likely to get the flu than others, but face more risks once infected. The flu virus can further inflame airways, triggering asthma symptoms (chronic cough, wheezing, chest tightness) or even making them worse. It may also lead to other lung diseases like pneumonia. This is true for people with mild asthma or whose symptoms are well-controlled by medication.flu shot statistics

A flu shot is the best protection against the flu. Unfortunately, data from the CDC show less than one in three Illinois adults with asthma received a shot this year. This is the lowest number in eight years and well below the national average.

Flu activity is also widespread in Illinois this year. To date, 772 adults and 76 children who have asthma or chronic lung disease were also hospitalized with the flu.

Flu season continues through the spring months. The good news is whether you have asthma or not, there is still time to get a flu shot.
Find a location near you where they are available at vaccinefinder.org.

New Report on Air Quality Highlights Urgency for Clean Energy Across Illinois

For Immediate Release:

January 28, 2020

Contact:

Brian Urbaszewski
[email protected]
312-405-1175

Chicago, Springfield, Peoria and Metro East regions Experienced More Than 100 Days of Polluted Air in 2018

CHICAGO – Ahead of Gov. Pritzker’s annual State of the State address to the General Assembly, a new report shows the urgent need to pass clean air legislation in Illinois, with the metropolitan Chicago region and other areas of Illinois continuing to struggle with high levels of air pollution.

The report, Trouble in the Air from Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and Illinois PIRG Education Fund, details continuing national challenges with air pollution that will only be made worse with increasing global warming. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts. The report shows that nearly 9.5 million people in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Metro region lived through more than 100 days of moderate air pollution or worse. Peoria, Springfield and the Metro East St. Louis region also saw more than 100 days of poor air quality in 2018. The new national statistics from 2018 used in the report represent the most recent data available.

“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government – at all levels – should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association. “Since electricity generation and transportation are the most polluting sectors of our economy and that pollution is killing hundreds of people a year in Illinois, we need to transition to clean renewable power sources like wind and solar, while accelerating the use of electric cars, buses and transit that eliminate tailpipe pollution in Illinois communities.” He noted that the Clean Energy Jobs Act being considered in Springfield is the only legislation that addresses both clean energy transitions and the need to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas, and from other sources.

From “Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018.” Table ES-1. Ten most populated metropolitan areas with more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2018.

“Clean air is not a prescription any physician can write, yet it is a much needed treatment,” said Dr. Neelima Tummala, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “While the profound consequences on human health are alarming, what gives me hope is that studies show that improved air quality can mitigate these health effects.” Dr. Tummala noted, for example, that studies show that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma.

The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.

“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health.”

Recommendations in the report include calling on policymakers at all levels of government to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also calls on the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards instead of rolling them back.

“No Illinois resident should have to experience one day of polluted air – let alone over 100 days a year,” said Abe Scarr, Director of Illinois Public Interest Research Group. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”

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Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.

What You Need to Know About the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

What We Currently Know About the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (Updated 02/04/20)

  • Eleven confirmed cases in U.S.
  • CDC says immediate risk is low at this time
  • Taking basic precautions can help prevent further spread of virus
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) says the new coronavirus is an international public health emergency based on its continued spread

A new coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China has spread to other countries in Asia and now to the United States. The virus, known currently as the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), has 11 confirmed cases in the U.S. including a Chicago-area couple. Eighty-two possible cases in 22 states are also under investigation.

Coronaviruses like this are part of a group of viruses that may lead to lung illness, with symptoms that at first are similar to those of the common cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms associated with cases of the new virus have included fever, cough and trouble breathing. They have appeared anywhere from two to 14 days after contact with the virus. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

There is currently no vaccine or medication to prevent and treat this virus, but you can still reduce the risk of infection and prevent further spread. It’s recommended you:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick
  • Stay home and avoid contact with others if you are sick

If you live with lung diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis, taking steps to avoid getting sick is especially important as viruses can worsen these conditions or lead to additional lung illnesses.

In response to continued spread of the virus to new countries, especially those with more vulnerable populations, the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled the outbreak an international public health emergency

For U.S. residents, the CDC says current risk depends on exposure to the virus, which is now known to spread person-to person. However, as exposure to the virus is unlikely, immediate risk to most of the American public is still low at this time. It remains important to know the signs and symptoms and take steps to prevent further outbreak of the virus. Limiting person-to-person spread by following the steps above can lessen its impact while the CDC learns more about how it affects people.

The CDC is also screening for the virus in travelers who arrive to the U.S. from Wuhan. These screenings are currently taking place at Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York JFK and Los Angeles airports.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) will continue to monitor and provide updates as made available.

Maureen Remembers Her Mother with Each Step

Story written by Amanda Sabino

Joan Flynn challenged herself to take the stairs whenever possible, and her daughter Maureen followed. As Maureen would pause and struggle to catch her breath, the chances of gaining ground on her mother faded. Joan was already waiting at the top stair, joking with Maureen as she had many times before.

“The stairs never get any easier, do they, Maureen?”

Maureen and her mother were best friends. They lived within walking distance of each other and even worked together at Loyola University Medical Center. They spent a lot of time together, enjoying shared loves of exercise, cooking and music – especially Bruce Springsteen.

“My brother Dan, mom and I were big Springsteen fans,” Maureen says. “The three of us would always see him in Chicago when he toured.”

Maureen always drew inspiration from her mother who, as she describes came from very humble beginnings. Joan’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, and she lived in a house with no running water in the bathroom and few possessions. This modest upbringing kept her grounded and thankful for the important things in life as she grew up, began a career in nursing and eventually started a family. She cherished her husband, five children, nine grandchildren and her health.

“Some of the fondest memories that I have of my mom was her helping me with my babies,” Maureen recalls. The bond they shared is clear as Maureen describes how her mother would drop everything to help out when she needed it.

“I miss her so much.”

group of people smiling

Maureen Campbell (second left) and her family team “Joan’s Little Climbers,” at the 2019 Hustle Chicago stair climb.

It was early in 2017 when the family noticed her slowing down a bit. Maureen and Dan were planning the next Springsteen concert, but Joan felt she wouldn’t be able to keep up and turned down the invitation.

In July of that year, Joan was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her immediate reaction was not a question about how someone as healthy as her could have lung cancer, but about her five kids. “What am I going to tell them?” Maureen recalls her asking her physician. Joan never worried about herself.

Joan started treatment immediately at Loyola and fought valiantly, but the cancer continued to progress rapidly. When she was hospitalized in October of 2017, doctors knew there was nothing more they could do.

Maureen remembers the most difficult moment was telling her mother she had to stop radiation treatment. “You fought so hard and did everything you could,” she assured her mom.

Maureen shared the news and her brothers and sisters began gathering at the hospital. With 14 family members in the room, Joan looked around, laughed and said, “What the heck, it’s like Saturday Night Live in here!” With everyone now laughing, they played music and talked about their favorite memories.

Joan lost her life to lung cancer the next night. The funeral included her favorite people, her favorite music and bagpipes. Maureen gave the eulogy, and of course Springsteen played.

Joan’s children remember her love every day, and the injustice of her passing still marks Maureen.

woman smiling

Maureen celebrates completing her second climb in February 2019.

“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer and the least funded. I’m still angry that this horrible disease took my mom. She did everything right.”

The two had talked about how hard her death would be for Maureen – something Joan understood well after having a close relationship with her own mother. Maureen leaned on Joan’s advice.

The loss still ran deeper than Maureen could have imagined. After learning about the Hustle Chicago® stair climb, she signed-up and began training. It helped her get through the first holiday season without her mom.

“The first year, Hustle Chicago saved me. I put all my energy into that. I over-trained. But I would have crawled up the stairs if I had to.”

When she arrived the morning of her first climb, everyone seemed to know Maureen’s story. Even before she exchanged words with the other climbers, she saw the compassion in their eyes. She walked up to the message boards, picked up a pen and knew immediately who she would write to – her mom.

Maureen felt empowered and fueled by her desire to help fund lung cancer research. “She was with me,” she describes. When she climbs, Maureen listens to the playlist they played at her mother’s funeral.

Maureen will climb for a third time in February, knowing her mom lovingly challenges her to take the stairs one more time.

Maureen honors the memory of her mom by committing to be a lung health champion and pledging to raise over $1,000 for Respiratory Health Association. To support Maureen’s fundraising for lung cancer research and RHA’s other work, click here.

children smiling together

The “Joan’s Little Climbers” team after finishing the 2019 climb.

Protect Your Family with a Home Radon Test

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that occurs naturally in the environment. It can enter homes through cracks in the foundation and go unnoticed for long periods of time – potentially causing long-term lung health problems for those living inside. Breathing in radon can damage cells in the lungs and even lead to lung cancer. Exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, causing nearly 21,000 deaths annually. January is Radon Action Month, a great time to test your home for unsafe levels of this gas and take steps to remove it if needed.residential street

According to the U.S. EPA, nearly one in 15 homes has elevated radon levels. Home testing is the only way to identify elevated levels of radon, but you can purchase affordable, do-it-yourself test kits from most hardware stores and online.

There are a variety of short-term testing devices that take between two and 90 days to complete. These are good if you need quick results.  Long-term devices remain in the home for more than 90 days. They may provide a more accurate radon average as levels vary from season to season.

If test results are above 4.0 pCi/L — a measure of radioactivity in a liter of air — you should take additional steps to reduce radon levels. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has a list of professionals trained to mitigate radon in residential areas who can help you address these issues.

Experts recommend testing your home every two years.

Have additional questions about radon gas or how you can make sure your home is safe? Learn more with our library of radon-related resources.

US Passes National Tobacco 21 Law

Enforcement Needed to Ensure Law Isn’t Just Smoke and Mirrors

Chicago, IL – In December 2019, Congress passed legislation raising the national purchase age of tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) from 18 to 21 years old. President Trump signed the bill into law and it took effect immediately, making it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco and e-cigarette products to anyone under 21.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) fully supports efforts to raise the minimum purchase age of tobacco products, especially since 95% of adult smokers take up the habit before they turn 21. On its own, however, this new law is not enough. RHA urges further action from the federal government to prevent youth smoking including:

Enforcement of the new law: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will take up to 270 days to develop and implement enforcement guidelines. Based on CDC estimates, more than 400,000 youth will smoke their first cigarette during this time. With 19 states including Illinois already enforcing their own Tobacco 21 laws, the federal government should have the necessary existing knowledge and resources to more efficiently craft policies for enforcing the national law.

Continued efforts to restrict youth access to tobacco and e-cigarette products: While Tobacco 21 is a great first step toward curbing teen smoking, a more comprehensive approach to preventing tobacco and e-cigarette use is needed. This includes moving forward with a previously proposed measure to remove all flavored vaping products (including mint and menthol) from the market. These flavoring have proven effective in attracting and addicting young smokers.

Tobacco 21 offers clear public health benefits, but it’s important lawmakers continue fighting disruptive practices from the vaping industry. Products remain unregulated and untested, and these companies should not be allowed to continue deflecting on safety concerns in light of this new law.

As new policies are developed, it is up to individual states to continue fighting for the health of teens and against the tobacco industry’s influence. RHA and its partners worked hard to ensure the passage of Tobacco 21 in Illinois, and now we urge Illinois lawmakers to move forward with a ban on flavored tobacco products.

Supporting additional public education and awareness initiatives: A key part of reducing youth smoking is showing teens that these products are dangerous and addictive. Expanding educational content and programs for youth can help offset the billions being spent by the tobacco industry to market tobacco and vaping products. Additional investment is needed at the state and federal level to provide necessary resources needed for these efforts.

 

FDA’s New E-Cigarette Policy Isn’t Enough to End Youth Vaping Epidemic

For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL January 02, 2020 – Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new policies regarding enforcement against certain flavored e-cigarette products. These new policies, however, will fall far short of what is needed to keep teens away from these addictive nicotine products.

By only restricting flavors in cartridge-based products and allowing menthol flavorings to remain on the market in all forms, the FDA is leaving too many ways for Big Tobacco to target and addict kids across the country.

“Nicotine is an addictive, dangerous drug that harms brain development and poses other significant health risks,” says Joel Africk, President and CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “No level of chemical aerosol inhalation is good for the lungs, and other long-term health impacts of these products are completely unknown.”

The vaping industry’s illegal marketing to children has been well documented, and one of the industry’s largest players, JUUL, has been sued by the FDA for making illegal claims about the safety of their products.

“We cannot trust companies profiting off addiction with the health and safety of our nation’s children,” continues Africk.

The FDA’s new policy comes in response to skyrocketing rates of youth e-cigarette use. Currently one out of every four high school students reports using e-cigarettes and the majority report using products in candy and fruit flavors.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906 focusing on lung health and clean air issues. A policy leader, our organization remains committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21 and other tobacco product policies.