A Statement on Racial Justice

To the Respiratory Health Association community,

The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor have sparked outrage, sadness, and fear across the country. These tragic, preventable deaths and countless others lay bare the persistent racial inequities in our society – inequities that represent a crisis for public health.

Respiratory Health Association supports the protesters and those who are speaking out for racial justice.

To say anything else betrays our guiding principles and vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all. We cannot achieve health equity without addressing the systemic racism that is so deeply rooted in our country. As we watch current events unfold during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded that the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on black and brown communities and is simply the latest in a long list of inequities.

As we stand together demanding change, we must not confuse the actions of those seeking justice and systemic reform with the opportunistic actions of others seeking to harm the movement. Confusing those narratives only adds injustice to injustice.

We appreciate the seriousness of the challenges facing our country and support the work of the many organizations working on the front lines for racial equality, including many such organizations here in Chicago.

Sincerely,

Joel Africk
President & CEO
Respiratory Health Association

Mia’s Story: Living with Asthma During COVID-19

Mia during our 2019 State Lung Health Education Day, an opportunity for advocates to speak to lawmakers about clean air and lung health issues in Illinois.

Mia Fritsch-Anderson, 15, is a freshman at Whitney Young High School in Chicago. She began working with Respiratory Health Association at the age of five after being diagnosed with asthma. She regularly participates in lung health education and advocacy activities in her community and throughout the Chicago area, and won RHA’s Next Generation Advocate award in 2019 for her work.

Growing up with asthma has always involved extra caution and safety measures for me, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, my lung health is constantly on my mind. When the coronavirus first started showing up in the news, I immediately clued in on the extra warnings for people with lung disease. People like me with moderate to severe asthma are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. Because of this, my family and I have taken the stay at home order very seriously. I have not gone inside any restaurant or business, or hung out with any of my friends, since my last day of school on March 16. It’s especially hard to see my peers on social media going over to a friend’s house “just for a little while,” but I can’t take that risk right now.

In a way, I think living with a chronic lung disease made it a little easier for my family and I to adjust to all the safety recommendations. Many of them we already followed daily. Because a simple cold so easily progresses to pneumonia for me (at least twice a year), my family and I have always been especially careful about hand washing and have always used disposable paper towels in the bathroom. To avoid tracking germs all over the house, we have always been a “no shoes inside” family. We’ve always worked with my doctors and pharmacists to make sure I have enough of all my daily and rescue medications at home.

Since a major symptom of COVID-19 is not being able to breathe, any shortness of breath or tightness in my chest, no matter how small, has me wondering all the time if now I’m sick. And as an asthmatic, I’m already extra vigilant about how my breathing sounds, so I’m constantly worried that I’ve caught the virus. Before coronavirus, it wouldn’t phase me at all. I’d just think I needed some extra albuterol, grab my inhaler, and carry on. I’m sure every kid and teen with asthma has the same thoughts right now.

Asthma has also helped me better understand the general public’s fears around the coronavirus, like having trouble breathing, since I’ve been dealing with it all for 15 years. Recently, a family shared with me how scared their little girls were to wear face masks, because they are different and “it feels weird.” I could instantly relate to that as a lifelong nebulizer user and was able to give them tips to help them feel more comfortable. I think those of us together in this “lung disease” club are in a unique position to help others with the challenges that come from fear around breathing symptoms.

I think a lot of kids and teens, healthy or otherwise, feel helpless right now. Since I have lung disease, I can’t get out on the front line and help in ways I’ve seen others give back, like volunteering at the food pantry or shopping for neighbors. One thing I’ve been doing that helps me give back, and alleviates that “helpless” feeling, is using my knack for sewing to donate hand sewn masks to essential workers. So far, I have sewn 500 masks to donate to all sorts of workers in my community, including pharmacists, broadcast journalists, grocery store workers, day care workers, nurses, and therapists.

If you want to make face masks for yourself or others, I put together a video of how you can do it in your own home with items you may already have on hand.

To learn more about living with asthma during COVID-19, there are several resources from RHA including tips for managing your asthma. If you are interested in joining me as a lung health advocate, click here!

Jen Runs to Be Part of Something Powerful

Written by Amanda Sabino

Jen Dorval admits her running background is not the most extensive. But for Jen, running with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team in the Chicago Marathon is about more than just the race. It’s to honor her sister, Dee, who passed away four years ago due to chronic asthma.

two young sisters sit next to each other

Dee (left) and Jen

“Her goal was to run a 5k,” Jen says. “That was so sad to me because all she wanted was to run three miles…that is what kick-started me into running. If I can run a marathon for her, I’m going to do it.”

Growing up in Massachusetts, the fun-loving and outgoing sisters had many similarities – including living with asthma. Jen’s case was mild, but Dee’s caused her to miss school and visit the hospital frequently. That didn’t stop her from making an impression on everyone. She was particularly talented in the sciences, and when Jen encountered her older sister’s teachers years later, they all had a clear memory of her.

“She was in your face and did not care,” Jen says while laughing. “She had no filter whatsoever. If she were thinking it, it would come right out of her mouth!”

The sisters were both skilled swimmers, but Dee’s asthma eventually prevented her from continuing with the sport. She was fortunate the hospital was close to both home and school, which allowed her to quickly get care during frequent asthma episodes. The family still hoped that newer procedures would allow Dee to manage her asthma at home more often.

Dee and Jen with their mom

As this became more difficult, and the list of the activities she could no longer participate in grew longer, she considered a bronchial thermoplasty – an asthma treatment that heats and reduces the amount of smooth muscle in your airway wall. As a result, the immune system no longer tells the throat to constrict when triggered, making it easier to breathe. Unfortunately, due to her health, Dee was not a candidate for the procedure.

High-spirited and persistent despite this setback, Dee shifted her goals to new destinations. During Jen’s senior year in high school, Dee moved to sunny Florida. She felt that the milder climate would make it easier to manage her asthma triggers. Not only did her grandparents live there, but she met her fiancé and had her daughter Olivia, who she called Liv. Dee’s pregnancy was high-risk, and during the birth Liv suffered a stroke –which resulted in cerebral palsy that affected the left side of her body.

“Dee was a tireless advocate for Liv and made sure she got all of the therapies she needed,” Jen remembers. “She would have that girl in therapy all day to make sure she got the best care.”

As Dee settled into Florida life with her fiancé and daughter, her breathing struggles continued. Her oxygen levels were frequently low. Any time her levels were close to average, she would jokingly tell her sister how well she could breathe. Though they kept their conversations lighthearted, it illuminated a constant that had followed Dee throughout her life – she was not getting the oxygen needed to live comfortably.

On December 23, 2016, Dee woke up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe. Knowing she was in the middle of an asthma episode, her fiancé called the ambulance.

Jen and Liv

The resulting brain damage was too much for her to overcome, and she passed on Christmas Eve. Her family returned to Massachusetts – her final resting place – for a celebration of life. Loved ones drove through a giant snowstorm to attend the funeral – and Jen reflects a mischievous Dee would have enjoyed putting them through one last challenge.

“So many people like me, and they all drove through the snow for this?” she imagines Dee saying cheerfully.

Dee’s memory lives on in her daughter and family members like Jen, who carry her spirit and energy. Olivia also lives with asthma, and together with Jen, they run for a better future—one where even those living with the most severe cases of asthma can receive the care necessary to improve quality of life. To help support research, education and advocacy around asthma and other lung diseases, contribute to Jen’s Lung Power Team campaign.

We Teamed Up With Fleet Feet and On to Give Back to Front-Line Healthcare Workers

Fleet Feet, Respiratory Health Association deliver 250 pairs of On running shoes to Chicago front-line medical workers

Donation provides comfort to staff at three area hospitals during COVID-19 response

CHICAGO, IL, May 06, 2020 – Fleet Feet, a leading retailer of athletic footwear and apparel; Respiratory Health Association, Chicago’s local lung health nonprofit; and On, innovators in shoe design technology, have teamed up to deliver more than 250 pairs of running shoes to front-line healthcare workers.

Shoes were delivered to healthcare staff at Northwestern Medicine, University of Chicago Medicine, and Loyola Medical Center this week. The deliveries coincided with the start of National Nurses Week and Nurse Appreciation Month.

“We’re incredibly grateful for the generous donation from On and collaboration with Fleet Feet that we hope provides some measure of comfort to medical staff in Chicago,” says Joel Africk, President & CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “We have to do everything we can to face this crisis as a united community, and this is a great example of everyone chipping in.”

“The medical profession is being asked to do more now than it ever has in our recent history. If they are doing more, we can do more to support them,” says Dave Zimmer, Owner, Fleet Feet. “We are fortunate to be working with On to provide footwear to hardworking respiratory therapists, doctors and nurses at local hospitals.”

“We are deeply appreciative of our medical heroes in Chicago and across the world as they continue the fight against COVID-19,” says Britt Olsen, On’s GM of North America. “They are risking their lives every day on the frontlines of this crisis and at On we felt the least we could do is help provide comfortable footwear during the many hours they’re spending on their feet. We also owe a huge thanks to Fleet Feet for collaborating with us in this donation process.”

Since 1906, Respiratory Health Association has helped address Chicago’s greatest lung health challenges – from tuberculosis and influenza to asthma and lung cancer. COVID-19 is the latest challenge. Respiratory Health Association empowers patients and protects the most vulnerable through education, advocacy and research.

Fleet Feet has been a sponsor of Respiratory Health Association’s annual Hustle Chicago® stair climb for more than twenty years. The event is held each February and has raised more than $17 million to support the local fight against lung disease.

Fleet Feet is committed to finding shoes with the perfect fit for runners, walkers, fitness enthusiasts—and now medical professionals—across Chicagoland.

Our Work Continues During COVID-19

An Update from Joel Africk, President & CEO
As COVID-19 continues to spread, we as a community are facing serious loss, challenges and uncertainty. If you’re living in Illinois, like our team is, you’ve recently heard that our stay at home order has been extended through May 30, 2020. Other cities and states are making similar decisions.

During this stay at home order we’re separated from friends and family when their comfort is sorely needed. But now more than ever, we need to stay strong as a community and continue our efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

People with chronic lung disease have suffered—and will suffer—many of the worst consequences of COVID-19. That places more than one million of our friends, co-workers and family members at great risk until this virus is under control. I urge you to follow the advice of local public health leaders and be part of the solution. These measures are the only way to protect us.

These measures work. The results aren’t instantly visible, but the efforts we make today will save lives in the weeks to come.

Some of you have also expressed concern for our staff and the organization’s ability to carry out our mission. Your care and support is appreciated more than I can express. Respiratory Health Association’s staff is working remotely and following all local public health guidance.

Over the past month, we’ve created a number of general COVID-19 resources that we’re sharing on our website, through email and on social media, including guidance on what to do if someone in your home has COVID-19.

To help serve those of you with chronic lung disease, we’ve developed guides about COVID-19 and COPD and asthma. And we’ve created updated information about smoking as a risk factor for severe effects from the coronavirus and updated tips to help you quit smoking or vaping. To support our lung health communities, we’re working to assess and meet the needs of pulmonary rehabilitation leaders and provide at-home resources for patients who are unable to attend in-person rehabilitation sessions.

If there’s more we can do, I invite you to please give us feedback. We will continue striving to support our lung health community in any way we can.

Rest assured that our work continues, and we remain steadfastly committed to our vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

Be well,

Joel Africk
President & CEO
Respiratory Health Association

CARES Act Offers New Opportunities to Support Non-Profit Organizations

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). The new law provides more than $2 trillion in funding to help individuals and businesses affected by the new coronavirus. The CARES Act also provides additional support for non-profit organizations as they continue important mission work in communities across the country.

One notable element of this non-profit support is a series of tax incentives for charitable giving.  People who make donations to eligible non-profit organizations in 2020 can benefit from some of these temporary changes. What does this mean if you are thinking about donating to a charity like Respiratory Health Association?

  • You can donate up to $300 and make a one-time deduction from your 2021 tax return. You do not have to itemize these deductions.
  • If you itemize charitable giving when filing taxes, there will not be a limit to how much you can deduct on your 2021 return. This was previously capped at 60 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • Companies can now deduct up to 25 percent of their charitable gifts and food donations made during 2020.
  • The law removes required minimum distributions from retirement plans. However, you can still make charitable gifts from these accounts to reduce your taxable income for 2020.

We understand many are experiencing hardship during these times, but if you are in a position to donate, we need your help. Individual gifts to Respiratory Health Association support programs helping those living with lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer. As you may know, people with these conditions are at a greater risk of serious illness if they get COVID-19. To address these concerns, we continue to expand our resources for vulnerable populations during the pandemic.

We have developed guides about COVID-19 and COPD and asthma. And we’ve created updated information about smoking as a risk factor for severe effects from the coronavirus and updated tips to help you quit smoking or vaping. We’re also working to assess and meet the needs of pulmonary rehabilitation leaders and provide at-home resources for patients who are unable to attend in-person rehabilitation sessions.

If you’d like to support RHA’s work toward healthy lungs and clean air for all, you can donate here. If you have questions about ways to give to RHA, click here or e-mail Anastasia Schriber at [email protected].

Please note this information on the CARES Act and non-profit support is not intended as legal advice. Please refer to a financial professional for questions you may have.

Protect Your Lungs While Staying Home During COVID-19

As people spend more time inside during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to recognize and reduce sources of pollution in your own home. Indoor air quality varies, but is often worse than outdoor air quality. However, you can improve the air quality in your home by reducing lung irritants generated indoors. Following some basic guidelines in your day-to-day routines can improve the health of those in your home who live with asthma and other lung diseases.

Cooking

gas stove can worsen indoor air quality

Gas stoves can increase indoor air pollution in your home if not properly ventilated.

People are cooking at home more often during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cooking creates moisture, which feeds mold and mildew growth – a common trigger for those living with asthma. It also exposes you to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, particularly from gas stoves. Nitrogen dioxide is known to worsen asthma and COPD symptoms. Using a stove fan that vents to the outside can reduce pollution from cooking by 75 percent. Opening windows while cooking can also help keep the air in your home clean.

Bathing/Showering

With people home more often, your bathroom and shower may be used more. Moisture from showers can lead to mold and mildew growth, which may affect the lungs of people living with asthma. Use the bathroom fan to vent extra moisture to the outside. If you haven’t checked your fan lately, now is a good time. Remove any dust and dirt from the fan grill to keep it working properly. If your bathroom doesn’t have a fan, open a window if possible.

Cleaning

Regularly cleaning surfaces in your home is a good practice, and can also help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Taking some precautions when cleaning can help reduce the amount of indoor pollution created. If you are cleaning with chemical solutions, try to open windows vent fumes from your space. Additionally, you should never combine ammonia and chlorine bleach cleaners. This can produce a toxic gas which could be dangerous, and especially those who live with asthma. If possible, use a vacuum cleaner, which limits dust levels in the air. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends removing your shoes when you enter your home, as they can bring in additional dirt, dust and germs.

Other Daily Activities

A number of other daily activities and products can worsen indoor air quality. Nail polish, candles and paint are just a few examples of products that can affect lungs, especially those of people living with lung disease. Open windows to circulate air in your home, or use these products outside if possible to protect those in your home living with asthma.

Smoking

Anyone in your home who smokes should do so outside, as smoke and vapor from tobacco and e-cigarette products can be especially irritating to the lungs of someone living with asthma. Also, if you live in multi-unit housing, be aware that some of your neighbors may be struggling at this time and their conditions could worsen from second hand smoke. If you are thinking about quitting, there are a number of resources to help you here.

Reduced activity outside the home has generally helped improve outdoor air quality. However, if you live near pollution sources like industrial facilities or major roadways, you may still risk contact with potentially harmful air pollution. Those living with asthma may also be sensitive to outdoor allergies. In these situations, opening windows is still a good option to ventilate your home. However, consider limiting the amount of time you leave them open. If opening windows is not possible, air filters may be another option to keep good air quality in your home. You should only use devices certified by a trusted source, as some filters use ionizing technology which can produce harmful gas inside your home. You can view a list of filters certified as safe here.

Download and Share Our Fact Sheet

You Can Do Pulmonary Rehab at Home

While at no greater risk of getting sick with COVID-19, people with lung diseases like COPD are at higher risk for becoming seriously ill if they do become infected. Continuing your respiratory therapy is an important way to stay healthy. As many pulmonary groups are suspending programs during this outbreak, we do not want social distancing to stop you from getting the exercise you need! There are a number of ways you can continue your pulmonary rehab at home.

We put together a number of resources to keep you moving in your own home. We encourage you to talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about what exercises or activity will work best for you.

Download Fact Sheet: Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Home 

pulmonary rehab exercises

 

Video: Daily Pulmonary Rehab at Home Exercises

Developed by the University Health Network

We recognize the COVID-19 outbreak may be stressful for some people. One of the best things people can do to support themselves is to take
care of their bodies whether that be through regular exercise, meditation, or healthy eating.

Coronavirus and COPD: What You Should Know

It is important those living with COPD and their caregivers are well-informed about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and take proper steps to minimize the risk of infection. Since developments are fast-breaking, continue to follow trusted news sources or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness in people. Human coronaviruses are not new — they are common throughout the world and typically cause mild to moderate illnesses. The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory virus first identified in December 2019 as the cause of an outbreak in China. COVID-19 is likely more highly contagious than other highly contagious coronavirus strains such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

People with underlying health conditions, including COPD, are at no greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 than others; however, they are more likely to experience serious complications if they become infected.

Transmission of Virus

Human coronaviruses are most commonly spread from close contact with an infected person to others through:

• the air, if someone coughs or sneezes;
• close personal contact, like touching or shaking hands; and
• touching an object or surface that has been exposed to the virus, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands;

The current coronavirus, COVID-19, appears to occur mainly through respiratory transmission.

Symptoms

Most people who get sick with COVID-19 will develop mild to moderate respiratory symptoms. However, people who are more susceptible to infection may develop more severe disease. The most common symptoms include fever, tiredness, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. Some patients may also have aches and pains, runny nose, nasal congestions, sore throat or diarrhea.

Illness can begin 2 to 14 days after an exposure. If these symptoms sound like symptoms of influenza, you are correct. But the consequences of COVID-19 are potentially more serious, which is why if you experience these symptoms you are encouraged to seek medical attention. Most people infected with the virus – about 80% – recover from the disease without needing special treatment.

Important Steps for People Living with COPD as Coronavirus Spreads

1. Maintain at least a 30-day supply of your prescribed medications. Check with your insurance provider for refill terms.

2. Stock up on every day supplies in your home. If possible, ask someone to bring items to your home so you do not have to travel outside.

3. Check with your oxygen supplier to see how it will deal with COVID-19. It’s important to ensure that your routine oxygen needs will be met.

4. Establish a COVID-19 hygiene routine for people entering home (i.e using hand sanitizer, handwashing, etc.), but try to avoid contact with others as much as possible especially if  COVID-19 outbreak is identified in your community.

5. If home health nurses or aides assist you with household tasks, ask what steps they are taking to ensure prevention practices are in place.

6. Stay inside unless absolutely necessary, like to visit your health care provider. If you must go out, keep a 6 foot distance from others and wash your hands often.

Everyday Steps Those Living with COPD Can Take to Further Protect Against Coronavirus

1. Wash your hands often during the day with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer to be sure you’ve washed your hands for 20 seconds? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Keep a bottle or two of hand sanitizer nearby.

2. Routinely clean surfaces in your home (wipes work great) and avoid directly touching surfaces that may contain germs. This includes your telephone, the TV remote control, gym equipment, and the steering wheel of your car.

3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. This is good advice all year round. Once contaminated, your hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth.

4. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Cough into your elbow instead of your hands.

5. Stay in your home and avoid close contact with others who are sick.

6. If you have not yet quit smoking, please do so now and give your respiratory system a break. If you contract COVID-19 you will need your respiratory system to be as strong as possible.

Additional Resources

 

Do you live with COPD or care for someone who does? Sign-up for our e-newsletter which contains practical tips for living well, the latest in COPD research and legislative updates that may affect you. You will also receive an annual Inspiration newsletter by mail. 

Interested in hearing more from Respiratory Health Association about important lung health and clean air policy issues? Sign-up to join our advocacy e-mail list to receive quarterly updates on what we’re doing to help move Illinois toward a healthier future.

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.