New Grant Helps Grow RHA’s Asthma Program Reach to Youth in Need Across Illinois

Asthma is the number one chronic illness-related reason students in Illinois miss school – adding up to over 313,000 days out of the classroom each year. Working with children and teens to better understand and manage asthma can help them stay in class, prevent attacks and remain healthy.

Asthma program educators

RHA’s asthma program staff will provide training in schools across Illinois.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently awarded Respiratory Health Association a Healthy Community Investments Grant to bring school-based asthma education to more people in Chicago and throughout Illinois. RHA will focus on sharing prevention programs with schools in high need communities across the state during the 2019-20 school year. This focus comes in part from a 2018 RHA report which shows the majority of asthma-related emergency room visits are African American children – at a rate five times higher than white children.

Two National Health Corps (NHC) members and four RHA asthma program staff will work with school administrators and nurses to schedule sessions and deliver the evidence-based Fight Asthma Now© (FAN) program to students. FAN helps students identify and avoid triggers and learn how to manage their medications. Students also receive a free spacer to help medicines work more effectively.

With the new grant funding, RHA will provide training to an additional 1,000 elementary, middle and high school students living with asthma over the course of the school-year. Data from past programs shows that 80% of students will better understand triggers and warning signs of asthma attacks, and the value of long-term medications and spacers. At least 75% of students will say they want to talk with an adult in their home about an Asthma Action Plan and asthma medications.

RHA has delivered FAN to more than 16,000 students in Chicago to date, and has also provided training to health department staff in southern Illinois. Asthma educators serving schools in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, California also received training to support new asthma programs in these areas.

If you are an administrator, nurse, teacher, parent or community member interested in bringing the FAN program to a school near you, please contact Mary Rosenwinkel, Program Coordinator at [email protected] or (312) 628-0227. You can also learn more and submit a request with our online form.

Thank you note from student

Students who participated in the 2018-19 FAN sessions shared thanks with RHA staff.

Thank you note from student

Students who participated in the 2018-19 FAN sessions shared thanks with RHA staff.

RHA to Study Impact of Air Pollution on Public Health in Chicago

All but two of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) 1,800 buses run on diesel fuel. Respiratory Health Association knows the health and environmental effects of vehicle pollution in the air and is focused on finding healthier transportation options for Chicago.

This summer, the Joyce Foundation awarded a one-year grant to help RHA explore the impacts of air pollution in communities throughout the city of Chicago. Funds will support a study of how diesel buses affect the lung health of residents and help increase efforts to educate leaders and the public on the potential benefits of electric vehicles.

Traffic at nighit in city

RHA’s study will explore the potential health benefits of using electric buses in place of diesel-powered vehicles.

“We see electric buses as a great opportunity, if not a necessity, for a healthier Chicago,” commented Erica Salem, RHA Senior Director, Strategy, Programs & Policy. “The Joyce Foundation’s generous grant allows us to examine how our city can move toward transportation options that provide cleaner air and healthy lungs for all Chicagoans.”

RHA will work closely with the University of Chicago’s Spatial Data Science and the Chicago Department of Public Health to study the health effect diesel buses have across different Chicago neighborhoods. Teams will compare data of those living with lung diseases who also live near busy bus routes, bus garages or maintenance shops to residents living in lower bus traffic communities.

This work builds on RHA’s efforts to secure Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pledge for cleaner bus options. Chicago lags behind other major US cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have announced plans to move to all electric buses sometime in the next 20 years.

RHA will release a final report in the spring of 2020.

Adam’s Marathon Journey Keeps His Friend’s Memory Alive

by Amanda Sabino

Adam Giglia and his friend Tim McCarren had just finished a half marathon in Adam’s hometown of Rochester, New York. They took a moment to look back on an inconceivable 13.1 miles.

“Can you imagine,” they said between breaths, “doing a full marathon?” The two laughed.

Adam never considered himself much of a runner, though sports have always been in his blood. By age three – much like the rest of western New York – he was in skates and playing hockey.

When the Miller family moved-in across the street during Adam’s sixth grade year, he and new neighbor Erik Miller bonded over sports. Adam and Erik were only a year apart in school, and became fast friends.

Living across the street from each other meant getting together often, which was also the case for their families.

Runner poses after finishing run

Adam pauses for a post-run photo.

Adam’s father Lew and Erik’s father Jack would often take the boys golfing. It was competitive, but always fun. Jack would sometimes talk about his glory days running while growing up in Chicago – even showing his many photos from distance races over the years.

“He was passionate about it,” Adam says.

A couple months after running the half marathon with Tim, Adam stood alongside Jack. After five years battling lung cancer, Jack entered hospice care.

Adam knew what he had to do, but the steps to get there seemed daunting. Everything he read said how challenging marathons could be. Was it possible?

His mind was set. He promised to run the 2019 Chicago Marathon in Jack’s honor.

That commitment was the ultimate currency of their friendship to Jack. Though he ran the Boston Marathon, he had never done so in his native Chicago. Adam was hopeful Jack would have the chance.

“You’re going to win next year,” he said.

In September, Jack lost his life to lung cancer. Now, Adam runs not only for him, but for his grieving friend Erik and lung cancer survivors everywhere.

“I’m committed to do whatever it takes to cross that finish line.”

Training has lived up to its reputation. He describes it as the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life. He wants to finish in less than four hours, and after months of sacrifice he’s getting close to his goal.

His friends and family will be at the marathon to support him. Tim, who has played chief motivator during training, will once again run alongside Adam. But they’ll be missing Jack.

Runners pose after running half marathon

Tim, his wife Marissa and Adam after the half marathon in Rochester.

Adam imagines Jack would want to celebrate by buying a round of beers.

“Were this 20 years ago,” he says, “he’d be waiting for me at the finish and saying, ’what took you so long?’”

Those watching the marathon can spot Adam in his custom t-shirt with Chicago Bears colors. Jack was a huge fan of the Bears.

Adam sees every step of 26.2 miles as an opportunity to raise funds for lung cancer with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team. Money raised for research may prevent someone else from going through what Jack went through.

“This run’s for Jack.”

To support Adam’s run for lung cancer research, click here.

Flu Shot is a Gift for Your Lungs

Vaccines are a safe and important part of medical care for everyone. Regular immunizations prevent common bugs like the flu and limit the spread of disease through schools, workplaces and communities. For people living with lung disease, a flu shot is especially important. Someone with asthma or COPD:

  • Has a greater risk of catching common infections like the flu
  • May feel added effects from flu symptoms
  • Is more likely to develop pneumonia or other lung problems

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports flu shots may lower the risk of getting sick by 40 to 60 percent. It also helps those who cannot receive a shot, including children under 6 months old. Additionally, the CDC typically recommends a one-time pneumonia shot for those who live with lung disease.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and a great time to talk with your doctor about ways to stay healthy going into peak flu season. Flu cases are most common in the fall and winter, especially between December and February. Ask if you are up-to-date on past vaccines and about getting an annual flu shot.

If you do not have a regular doctor or healthcare provider, there are a number of local and national resources to help:

Tips for Back to School with Asthma

Asthma causes more missed school days than any other chronic illness, leading to an estimated 13.8 million days missed per year. For children with asthma, heading back to school can be safer and more fun if their parents do a little homework of their own.

It’s important to take the following steps before the school year begins to keep kids healthy in the classroom:

Young woman uses inhaler while in school

Having an inhaler on hand in school is important for kids with asthma.

• If your child experiences frequent asthma symptoms, visit a doctor as soon as possible.

• Make sure your child has a written Asthma Action Plan, and share a copy with the school nurse.

• Help your child practice taking his or her asthma medication, and make sure your child understands how important it is to keep the medicine close by at all times.

• Give consent for your student to carry their inhaler. Call the school or visit the school/district website to find the necessary consent form. Save the prescription label for your child’s asthma medication to provide with the form.

• If possible, keep an extra quick-relief inhaler where needed, whether in the home or at school.

• Talk your child’s teachers to make sure they understand your child’s asthma ‘triggers.’ Make sure teachers can recognize asthma symptoms and know what to do if they happen.

• Remind your children of the importance of general hygiene (hand washing, covering mouth while coughing, etc.) to prevent common cold and flu viruses that can make asthma symptoms worse.

• Make sure your child stays in the routine of taking long-term control medications, if prescribed. Skipping doses can lead to increased symptoms and missed school time.

• Remember to get your child an annual flu shot. Kids with asthma are at increased risk for upper respiratory viral infections, including the flu.

• Ask your school administrators to bring the Respiratory Health Association’s Fight Asthma Now© program to their students with asthma and Asthma Management to school personnel, parents and other caregivers of children with asthma.

Asthma is manageable. With proper planning, medication and awareness, both parents and children can breathe easy this school year.

Lauren’s Helping Kids Breathe Easier

In April 2018, 9–year-old Lauren Wilson shook hands with Senator Daniel Biss and sat down to educate him about a new law being considered in the Illinois legislature – Stock Emergency Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools. The legislation allows schools across the state to keep a supply of albuterol on hand to deal with asthma episodes and other respiratory emergencies, similar to how they keep an EpiPen on hand for allergy emergencies. Advocates like Lauren helped get the law passed in May 2018– now, they’re trying to make sure that it gets implemented. For her first persuasive writing assignment in 3rd grade, she wrote a 3-page paper on why they need to use the new law to stock albuterol in her school.

Father, daughter and senator pose during lung health advocacy meeting.

Lauren and father Jeremy meet with Senator Biss

“Why does it take so long?” That’s Lauren’s newest question for Illinois State legislators. For kids living with asthma who rely on medications like albuterol, waiting for the law to take effect impacts their ability to live well. Lauren carries her inhaler in her backpack and keeps a backup with the school nurse, but those medications are specific to Lauren. The new law lets schools keep ‘undesignated’ medication – meaning it is not prescribed to a specific person – that can be administered to anyone in respiratory distress. This is an important fail-safe in case someone runs out of medication, forgets or loses an inhaler or, as often happens, experiences breathing difficulty for the first time and hasn’t been diagnosed yet. Lauren wants her school to be as prepared for an asthma episode as she is. Lauren has been an advocate for those living with asthma for most of her life, which stems from her own experience with respiratory issues. Lauren was in and out of the hospital and emergency care as an infant. “It was the scariest experience of my life,” her father, Jeremy remembers. “When they tell you that you should say goodbye to your child after hearing she has gone into respiratory failure.”

After her respiratory failure at six months old, doctors diagnosed Lauren with reactive airway because she was too young at the time for a full asthma diagnosis. She began treatment at that time. At four years old, her pulmonologist made the expected diagnosis of asthma. Throughout this journey, Lauren’s mom, Stephanie, began researching ways the entire family could be proactive in Lauren’s care. They worked closely with a pediatrician to develop an asthma action plan and watched Lauren’s symptoms to identify her triggers. Stephanie’s research also led her to Respiratory Health Association, and the entire family got involved. Lauren’s last hospitalization came last fall. Her asthma has been mostly under control since, but it always requires careful monitoring. In the meantime, Lauren continues to participate in sports and spend time with her friends. “I feel pretty fine doing sports,” Lauren says. “I usually don’t have triggers with sports, mostly just allergies and colds.”

Stephanie reminds her, “If you really pushed, we’d give you 2 pumps of albuterol for stair climbs.” Lauren is very proud of the collection of medals she has from sports and charity events. “I keep them all around the house,” she says mischievously. “We’ll find them everywhere,” Stephanie confirms. In October 2018 RHA presented her an award for her asthma advocacy efforts. The Next Generation Advocate awards are given to young people who stand up for a future free of lung disease and to protect our clean air. Lauren keeps that award in the front of the house, where everyone can see it.

Youth advocate and policy director pose with award for efforts to support lung health

Lauren and Matt Maloney, RHA Directory, Health Policy during the 2018 awards ceremony

She also has medals for Hustle Chicago, RHA’s stair climb, and the CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour, which she participated in as an 18-mile rider the first weekend in August. But there are challenges that come with asthma, summer heat, and physical activity. “We didn’t go out and ride today,” Jeremy mentions. “But she did 9 miles a few days ago.” Before July’s heat wave hit the Midwest, Lauren rode a couple times a week. But as the weather got hotter, the air quality worsened and became unhealthy for people with lung disease. Now that it’s cooled down and air quality has improved, she’s back to good riding conditions. It’s just another thing her parents monitor to help keep her asthma under control.

Jeremy and Stephanie joined Lauren for their 5th year of riding CowaLUNGa. She rode 18 miles on the back of Jeremy’s bike and plans to ride the 18 miles on her own bike next year. With plenty of time to train, she’s ready for the challenge. Lauren proudly describes her bike as blue and silver. “I just learned how to shift gears on it. I went on my first hill recently, and down. That’ll make the hill on the first day not as bad,” she says.

Another milestone she’s ready for?

“She wants that big 20 year trophy,” Jeremy says of the celebratory trophies RHA gives five, 10, 15 and 20 year riders. “And I believe she’ll get it.”

Besides asking her fellow riders to join her in supporting RHA’s advocacy efforts, she offers this advice: “Get out and ride. Wear comfy clothes: bike shorts, gloves and a helmet.” To join The Wilsons in their efforts to fund asthma research, advocacy and education, support their fundraising here.