Respiratory Therapists are Lung Health Heroes

This week is Respiratory Care Week – a time to celebrate respiratory therapists who work tirelessly helping those living with lung diseases breathe easier. Whether testing for lung function in a young child with asthma, or helping someone with COPD use an oxygen tank, respiratory therapists give people the power to take control and live to the fullest.

Their work is especially important considering how common lung diseases are in the United States:

• 25 million people live with asthma
• 16 million live with COPD and another 16 million have undiagnosed symptoms
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women

Respiratory therapists help people better understand and manage their illnesses, allowing them to live without distraction from symptoms. They also provide treatments to those in need of care, improving lung health and way of life.

For respiratory therapists like Rose Riggins, CRTT of AMITA LaGrange in Illinois, it’s way more than a job – it’s getting to know people, their lives and their stories.

“Working with the patients throughout the years has made them feel like family,” she says.

If you are living with lung disease, here are some of respiratory therapists’ most common tips for preventing additional complications and living the healthiest way possible:

• Get a flu shot every year to prevent additional complications of lung disease
• Live smoke-free and avoid secondhand smoke or close contact with smokers
• Eat right to maintain the most energy for staying healthy
• Avoid chemicals – like scented candles and harsh household cleaners – that may cause lung flare-ups
Monitor air quality and avoid the outdoors on poor air quality days

Join RHA this week and every day in saying thank you to respiratory therapists everywhere!

To learn more about becoming a respiratory therapist, view these resources.

Penny Runs for a Future Free of Lung Disease

Story by Amanda Sabino

Penny runs in her 50 States Marathon Club shirt. Members of the organization all share the goal of running a marathon in every U.S. state.

When Penny Wilbanks started a running program 15 years ago, she never imagined where it would take her. Now, after completing 18 marathons in 15 states, her goal is to run one in all 50.

“I truly have a passion for it,” she says.

Penny started running during junior high in Texas when she joined the track and cross-country teams. It was good training for soccer, which she played regularly into college.

While she stopped running for much of her adult life, motivation to restart a fitness routine led her to Google search “solo sports” in 2005. Shortly after, she attended an informational meeting at a local running store.

After running half marathons for 13 years, she decided in 2018 to run her first marathon — the Jack and Jill Marathon in North Bend, Washington. And she hasn’t looked back. “I knew I wanted to run in Chicago for 2020,” Penny shares. “And when I was looking for a charity to run for, Respiratory Health Association stuck out.”

For Penny, lung disease is personal. In 2008, she noticed running became more of a struggle. Often, she would have to stop and catch her breath. One day, she collapsed while training on a nearby track.

Penny was originally diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. When she went to her family doctor, he prescribed an inhaler. She didn’t leave home without it until the possibility came up that she may not have asthma. This led to an echo cardiogram for valve problems in her heart which showed nothing. A scan revealed spots on her lungs. Although grateful when doctors ruled out lung cancer, the cause of her recent breathing troubles remained a mystery. Doctors believe she has weakened lung muscles, and knowing the value of good lung health she continues to see specialists.

Penny and her husband at a Dallas Cowboys game.

Penny’s lung disease story is just one of many in her family. Her grandparents both died of lung cancer –

her grandmother only three weeks after diagnosis. Her aunt lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Seeing loved ones fight these battles has even led her father to quit smoking.

“Running on Lung Power Team is like running for my heart and soul – my family,” she says. “Each step is one toward healthier lungs and clean air.”

When the Chicago Marathon was cancelled this year, it threw a wrench in her plans. But as Penny puts it: “I just don’t believe in quitting.” She continues to run despite the cancellation.

This persistence defines her running style. In one particularly memorable half marathon race, she developed a giant blister that was so painful it slowed her considerably. Penny normally completes a half marathon in two and a half hours. Her husband even went to race officials when he couldn’t see her at the three-hour mark. She recalls her triumphant moment 30 minutes later at the 3:30 cutoff.

“There I came, ankle gushing blood, skipping across the finish. I just couldn’t give up until I saw the end.”

You find out a lot about her approach to life in a year full of challenges and cancellations when listening to her running philosophy: “You take that as your bad time, you take that as your licks. But you finish. Your medal looks the same as the first-place winner.”

The Chicago Marathon postponement, while disappointing, is just another challenge for Penny. She still plans to run in 2021 — and by that time,  expects to have 24 marathons under her belt. The delay means Chicago will mark the halfway point of her 50 state marathon goal. And she cannot wait to reach this milestone while running for Respiratory Health Association.

To support Penny’s fight against lung disease, you can donate to her fundraiser here.

Penny sits with the pups post race.

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 our 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

This year, getting a flu shot is more important than ever. The CDC estimates less than half of adults get an annual flu shot.  COVID-19 continues to spread, and we do not yet have a vaccine to prevent infection. While a flu vaccine cannot prevent you from getting COVID-19, it can help you avoid the flu so your immune system is better able to cope with other illnesses. It also reduces your risk of hospitalization and possibly developing more severe illness, and further adding to the burden on our health care facilities.

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 to get an annual flu shot. Are you concerned about visiting a facility as COVID-19 continues to spread? Talk to your doctor about ways to stay safe.

If you or loved ones are displaying flu symptoms (fever and respiratory symptoms, such as cough and runny nose, and possibly other symptoms, such as body aches, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) please stay home. Remember to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough, and promptly contact your health care provider.

Additional Resources

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

New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

For Immediate Release

September 11, 2020

Contact:

Brian Urbaszewski

[email protected]

312-405-1175

New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

Data Highlight Urgent Need for Electrification Across City’s Fleet

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science (CSDS) released findings of a year-long study indicating higher rates of asthma and COPD near several bus routes and garage locations across the city of Chicago. The study, which referenced data from Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first to examine lung disease prevalence in relation to Chicago’s bus routes.

The report analyzed 125 permanent CTA bus routes, classifying seven routes with an average of at least 20,000 riders per day and covering at least seven miles as high-traffic routes. Researchers found residents living within 500 meters (about 1600 feet) of these routes had asthma rates of 11.08%, which is 8.4% greater than the overall city rate. Those living within 500 meters of these routes had a 6.69% COPD rate, 10.6% higher than overall rate across the city. Additionally, residents living closest to any of the CTA’s seven bus garages had asthma rates more than 12% greater than the citywide average and COPD rates 23.6% greater than the citywide average.

“We already know that the air pollution produced by vehicles, including the diesel-powered buses which make up most of the CTA’s current fleet, is dangerous for people’s lungs,” commented Joel Africk, RHA President and Chief Executive Officer. “The higher rates of asthma and COPD along those busy routes – where residents are some of the most vulnerable in the city – show how important it is to replace diesel buses with electric models to improve air quality and protect everyone’s health.”

The report includes recommendations for priority routes to place electric vehicles as well as potential funding sources to support needed infrastructure. It was provided to CTA officials as part of its ongoing strategic planning efforts, which also include plans to reduce pollution produced by city transit vehicles. In 2019, Mayor Lightfoot’s transition team endorsed a goal of fully electrifying the CTA bus fleet and the Chicago City Council passed a resolution supporting complete electrification of CTA by 2040.

“Identifying socially vulnerable areas at greater risk of pollution exposure remains an important area of future research in the work of environmental justice and reducing health disparities,” noted Marynia Kolak, Assistant Director for Health Informatics at the Center for Spatial Data Science. “While these associations are complex, reducing the transit dimension of traffic pollution via electrification is a critical need for the city.”

“Federal, state, and local elected officials need to dedicate the resources needed for the Chicago Transit Authority to accelerate the city’s transition to electric buses,” Africk continued, “so residents – especially those living with lung disease – can enjoy the important health benefits cleaner transportation provides.”

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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.

Teen Vaping Rates Soar as Researchers Find COVID-19 Link

Teen Vaping Rates Soar as Researchers Find Link to COVID-19 Infection

CDC Study Shows Urgent Need for Federal, State, and Local Action to Reduce Youth E-Cigarette Use

Contact: Erica Krutsch, Director, Marketing & Communications
734-262-4527 | [email protected]

Chicago, IL – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new findings on youth tobacco use, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, as part of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey found that nationally 32.7% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019. That number represents a 148% increase since 2017. In Illinois, the survey found nearly 20% of high school students used vaping products, a 51% increase, and in Chicago, 12.4% of high schoolers vaped, which is an 88% increase.32.7% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019

“The data show that Illinois and Chicago have made more progress in addressing the teen vaping crisis than some areas of the country, but there is still work to be done,” says Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer at Respiratory Health Association, a Chicago-based lung health organization. “We know e-cigarettes are dangerous, and we need to do everything in our power to prevent a generation of kids from starting.”

The CDC findings come less than two weeks after a Stanford University study found that young people who smoke or use e-cigarettes are five times more likely to contract coronavirus than nonsmokers. Preliminary research also suggests that smokers infected with COVID-19 are nearly 1.5 times more likely to have severe symptoms and 2.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, need mechanical ventilation, or die compared to non-smokers.

“Emerging research has already shown that e-cigarette use may increase coronavirus infection and cause more severe cases of lung disease – and we are only beginning to understand the lasting health impacts of this virus,” commented Ravi Kalhan, MD, Director, Asthma and COPD Program at Northwestern University and RHA board member. “Just a year after we first saw unprecedented cases of lung illness related to vaping, and now facing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially concerning to see a growing number of teens are putting themselves at risk by using e-cigarettes.”

Respiratory Health Association advocates strengthening state and local indoor clean air laws to include e-cigarette and vaping use and banning flavored tobacco products that entice young people to start smoking as meaningful ways to curb teen vaping.

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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. For more information, visit resphealth.org.

Julie’s Ride Signals Her Next Chapter

Written by Amanda Sabino

As the wheels on her road bike dig into a local trail, Julie Hubbell focuses on clocking another 10 miles for CowaLUNGa’s Virtual Charity Bike Tour. Through ups and downs over the last few years, Julie knows one thing always makes her feel better – hopping on her bike and riding. But she also rides to celebrate completing a year of lung cancer immunotherapy treatments this August.

picture of Julie and her husband Steve

Julie Hubbell and her husband, Steve.

“What do I do now?” she wonders of her post-treatment future.

Julie’s fight against lung cancer has been uniquely challenging for both her and the medical staff at St. Mary’s in Hobart, Indiana. For the past two years, Julie, an outspoken advocate for her medical care, has worked with the doctors and nurses at St. Mary’s to help save her life.

She was initially diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer. When a surgeon went to remove her tumor, they found it wrapped around her pulmonary artery. Instead of hearing good news when she woke from surgery, doctors told her they could not remove it.

Now living with Stage 3 lung cancer, she would have to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment immediately. With her back on a hospital bed, and still connected to a chest tube, she was struck with fear at this setback.

“Why me?” she recalls thinking.

Facing the challenges of lung disease was nothing new for Julie, however. Several years earlier, she was diagnosed with COPD – but she wouldn’t let it stop her. She found community and support at Respiratory Health Association’s Living Better Together Conference for COPD, which empowered her to self-manage her care. Motivated by her improved well-being, she signed up to climb 52 floors to the top of Chicago’s skyline at Hustle Chicago Stair Climb® the next year. As she neared the top of the building, Julie burst into tears reflecting on how far she had come.

“It was surreal realizing I would finish,” she remembers.

Now facing this latest setback from lung cancer, Julie was prepared to fight again. The aggressiveness of her new treatment plan matched the goal – to decrease the size of a tumor now as big as her fist. By her third round of chemo, Julie’s white blood count was so low she had to get a blood transfusion. At the end of a few days in the ICU, she told doctors she did not want to complete the treatment.

Her doctors told her they would do everything to help her complete the treatment successfully. Her kids, who were by her side, urged her to continue. She had already come so far. Her daughter pleaded with her.

“Mom, do the treatment,” her son said quietly.

“You’re Gabe’s person,” her daughter said of Julie’s grandson. “You have to be here for Gabe.”

Julie and her daughter

Julie and her daughter.

The encouragement worked. Today, Julie is glad her doctors and family convinced her to continue chemotherapy. It led her to begin immunotherapy, which came along with its own challenges and side effects. But two years of treatment turned the tide against her cancer. Her tumor is down to the size of a walnut.

Side effects from the treatments have slowed her down, but she continues to regain strength and expects to feel even better after her last one in August.

“This,” she says, referencing her bike and her rides, “is kind of my getting back to living.”

As Julie gets ready for another bike ride and her last immunotherapy treatment, she reflects on her own will and the family that pushed her forward. Her determination and love for her family have never changed, but so much else has. Her next challenge is living in this new reality.

“The old me is gone,” she says. “I’m trying to figure out who the new me is. And cycling will be a big part of that.”

To donate to Julie’s ride and support those living with COPD, as well as research into lung cancer, click here.

Wearing Masks During COVID-19

In some places, wearing a cloth face covering or mask is now mandatory for indoor and some outdoor public spaces.  In addition to continued social distancing, hand washing, and staying home as much as possible, wearing masks can provide important protections against COVID-19 exposure.

For some people with COPD, asthma and other respiratory conditions, facial coverings may make breathing more difficult. If that is the case, we encourage you to consider alternatives that allow you to stay at home.  For example, many grocery stores and other business offer delivery or you may ask a family member or friend to help you get the supplies you may need.  Also, try to schedule your daily walk (or other outings) when others are less likely to be out.

If you can breathe comfortably while wearing a face mask, we want to share some tips to ensure it provides you with the most protection.:

  • Make sure the mask covers both your nose and mouth
  • The mask should fit snugly against the side of the face
  • Use the ties or ear loops to keep the mask in place
  • Use a mask that has multiple layers
  • If you wear a cloth mask, find one that can withstand being washed without damage
  • Make sure you remove your mask without touching your eyes, nose, or mouth

Even with a mask, it’s important to practice social distancing. Continuing to avoid crowds in parks, stores, and streets can help minimize your exposure to COVID-19.

COVID-19 social distancing, wearing masks, stay six feet apart, wash hands often, stay home if sick

 

Do you or someone you know live with COPD and want to receive updates from us? Sign-up for our emails here.

Living With COPD As Reopening Begins

The lifting of stay-at-home orders, while a positive sign, presents special risks for people living with chronic lung disease.  As places are reopening and people begin mixing with family members and friends who are no longer practicing social distancing, people living with COPD need to make sure they stay healthy and avoid exposure to the novel coronavirus.

People with chronic lung disease and other vulnerable conditions and members of their households should still keep in mind ways to remain safe and healthy when stay-at-home orders are lifted. Here are some important tips for continuing to protect yourself:

  • Try to limit trips out in public (e.g., make one big grocery trip every two weeks rather than going more frequently).
  • Continue to wear a cloth mask or face covering in public if it does not restrict your breathing
  • Avoid touching your face and wash your hands often while in public. Wash your hands as soon as you can when you are back at home.
  • Wear an outer layer of clothing (like a jacket or sweater) that you can take off and leave by the door as soon as you get home. This will minimize any germs brought into the house.
  • Try to limit visits with people outside of your household, including friends and grandchildren.
  • Continue social distancing. Social distancing does not mean social isolation.  You can connect with loved ones virtually or write letters and send via mail.  Or you can visit in your yard or a park where you can remain six feet away from guests.
  • Help your family and friends understand why it is important that you are not exposed. Remind them that people with the virus are actually contagious for several days before they show any symptoms. This is what makes the coronavirus so contagious.
  • When outside of your home, continue to practice physical distancing (staying at least six feet away from others). Limit time spent in crowded environments.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

At this time, we do not know when in-person pulmonary rehabilitation programs will resume.  Pulmonary rehabilitation facilities present special risks because of the number of participants who are considered at-risk for severe COVID-19. They are also close quarters in which many groups operate, which makes social distancing difficult to achieve.  Call your healthcare provider or pulmonary rehabilitation leader to learn what their plans.  For recommendations of exercises that can be done at home, please click here to get a list of exercises and additional resources.

Guidance on Caring for Children & Social Distancing

As family and friends start going back to work, they may ask you to watch grandchildren or other children. Currently, the CDC and AARP recommend that older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions continue to physically distance themselves from children who do not live in their households.

If asked to care for children who do not live in your household, you can do so in ways that reduce your risk of getting sick. These include ensuring the children have limited contact with other people outside their households. Make sure they practice good hygiene (washing hands, wearing a mask while out, etc.). If someone with COPD (or another high risk condition) is taking care of a child who is sick, consider social distancing within the house. Have that child wear a cloth mask in the house to prevent the spread of the virus to others.

If you would like to receive more information for people living with COPD, please click here.

Khalilah Gates, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Medical Education, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine edited this content.

Dr. Mark Dransfield Receives 2020 Solovy Award for COPD Research

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is pleased to name Mark Dransfield, MD, Medical Director of the Lung Health Center at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), as recipient of the 2020 Solovy Award for his work to improve lives through COPD research.

The award is funded by the Kathleen Hart Solovy and Jerold S. Solovy Endowment for COPD, and recognizes researchers who have worked to improve the lives of those living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to formally present the award at our Summer Reception, but plan to recognize Dr. Dransfield in-person at a future date.

2020 solovy award winner Dr. Mark Dransfield

“I am humbled and honored to be the recipient of the 2020 Solovy Award, following in a line of incredible lung health researchers,” said Dransfield. “This award opens the door for young investigators to pursue research developing and testing new diagnostic, preventative, and treatment strategies for COPD. And most importantly, it can help positively impact the lives of those living with COPD across the county and the world.”

Dr. Dransfield’s body of work in COPD includes research into many therapies currently used to treat the disease, as well as ongoing investigations into new treatment options and potential medications. He has written nearly 200 original manuscripts and has made multiple important discoveries throughout his career. He developed and oversaw a clinical trial examining the effectiveness of a pneumonia vaccine for patients with COPD, and recently completed a study examining the effects of beta-blockers to treat COPD. This research found that beta-blockers, commonly used to treat those living with COPD, do not reduce the risk of COPD exacerbations and in some instances may cause harm. These findings could lead to changes in treatment recommendations for those living with moderate to advanced cases of COPD.

The impact of his research is significant – and is a reminder lung disease research is historically underfunded.

“Despite the public health impact of COPD, the financial support for COPD research is less than that for other common conditions including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes,” he said. “The Solovy award provides money critical to jumpstart projects that may otherwise not get the support they need, laying the groundwork for innovations in treatment and hopefully one day a cure for COPD.”

Each year Respiratory Health Association awards early-stage research grants to promising projects covering lung diseases such as lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Learn more about RHA’s research program and funding opportunities.

Her Father’s Fight Propels Lindsay to the Finish Line

Written by Amanda Sabino

With a heavy beat booming through her headphones, Lindsay Condon sets off on another run. After a year on the sidelines with an injured ankle, she welcomes the return to activity. And now, each run is a step forward in her training for the 2020 Chicago Marathon.

Lindsay with her dad, Mike.

The marathon looms large in Condon family lore – Lindsay’s father Mike ran in 1996. This year, Lindsay will run as a tribute to him – two years after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

When she told her father, his reaction was a humble one.

“Lindsay, that was really nice of you,” he said, “but you don’t have to do that.”

“I know it means something to him,” she reflects.

As an occupational therapist from a family of healthcare professionals, running for lung health was already a perfect match for Lindsay. But the Condon’s lives have been profoundly impacted by lung cancer.

Mike was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in the spring of 2018. He began chemotherapy and radiation therapy for five months followed by nine months of Infinzi, a stage 3 immune therapy. The side effects of the chemotherapy drugs were horrific. Mike lost 35 pounds and had an allergic reaction to one of the drugs. He had difficulty lifting his feet and had swollen hands. Usually a huge jokester and life of the party, Mike’s boisterous voice was reduced to a strained whisper.

“At his lowest point, he couldn’t walk from the bed to the bathroom,” Lindsay recalls.

Mike, a lifelong chiropractor, was forced to retire after 30 years running his own practice. Lindsay describes her father as someone who cares deeply for his health and the health of his clients. Now lung cancer was forcing him to leave his dream.

For all his difficulty, after a year of treatments it seemed as though he had turned a corner – the drugs worked, and Mike had entered remission. But at the end of 2019, he got pneumonia. A scan in January showed his tumor re-appeared bigger than before and had spread to his lymph nodes. He began three months of weekly chemotherapy. For the next two years, he will continue to take Keytruda, a stage 4 immune therapy which he receives once every three weeks.

Lindsay and her dad.

“It’s a roller coaster,” Lindsay says. “One day his tumor has shrunk, and a couple months later it’s bigger.”

Lindsay is fueled by what her dad has accomplished throughout his life and her vision for what his life could be in the future with more funding for lung cancer research. She’s seen firsthand the challenges cancer has brought to her father and her family – but they still cherish each day.

“We’re sticking together through all this. I’ve never had to go through any of this alone.”

The COVID-19 pandemic makes things more challenging. Lindsay has to avoid contact with her father, but despite the difficulty of separation, she’s still afforded a few glimpses of her parents.

“They’ll drive by my house just to wave,” she says. “We’re just thankful for the time we have now.”

Now more than ever, she knows not to take her youth and health for granted. And when she gets tired, her strength of will runs in step with his indomitable spirit.

“I just tell myself, ‘You can do this. Because your dad can’t, you can do this, and you’ve got this.’”

Her advice to other runners? “It’s all mental. Your body can take you there. It doesn’t matter if you walk. As long as you finish.”

To support Lindsay’s run with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team and further research, education and advocacy around lung cancer and other lung diseases, donate here.

Lindsay with her parents.