Respiratory Therapists Are Front-line Heroes

healthcare workersThis year was a challenge for everyone. As we think about how COVID-19 has affected our families, health, and way of life, we also think about the unique challenges people living with lung disease have faced. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs offer important support for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Through exercises, peer support facilitation, and more – every day heroes known as respiratory therapists help people manage their disease and live more fulfilling lives.

As COVID-19 began to spread, critical programs like these were paused. Many respiratory therapists moved to treatment teams to help people recovering from the virus. Their work, and that of so many healthcare workers, inspires us. It gives us hope that we will overcome the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the absence of these programs left the COPD community without easy access to resources they count on to breathe easier. Respiratory Health Association was ready to help. With the initial support of pulmonary rehab leaders, we are launching Support for Transitioning Rehabilitation and Exercise Now Going to Home (STRENGTH). This program offers exercise routines and breathing tips COPD patients can use at home.

In an uncertain time, we bring hope to people living with COPD.

We look forward to the day when respiratory therapists reunite with their patients and can continue this important care in-person. Until then, we will develop and share resources to help people living with COPD stay safe and continue pulmonary rehab at home.

Over the years, your support has helped us fight for a future free of lung disease. As we continue to address the changing needs of our lung health community, we say thank you for your support.

If you are able, we ask you to support RHA this giving season. Give today to help us continue important lung health initiatives in Illinois. Together, can bring hope to people living with lung disease.

David Yelin, Esq. Receives 2020 Herbert C. DeYoung Medal, RHA’s Top Honor

Respiratory Health Association is proud to acknowledge years of work and leadership of board member, David Yelin, with the Herbert C. DeYoung Medal this year.

Since 2002, David has helped build Respiratory Health Association (RHA) into the strong local lung health organization we are today, but he acknowledges and credits the work of his collaborators and mentors first.

“I stood on the shoulders of many great people who came before me,” David quickly admits as we talk about his accomplishments on the board.

Over the past 18 years, David has helped diversify RHA’s board membership to include members from different areas of business – a move that helped develop new partnerships and support for the organization.  After his 2-year tenure as Board Chair, he led the board’s Governance Task Force ensuring RHA has strong oversight and a vision for growth. Earlier in his tenure on the Board, he helped orchestrate the Association’s establishment as an independent nonprofit, building support from the Board of Directors and ensuring RHA has the flexibility to develop programs and policy efforts that best meet the needs its communities and serve our neighbors who are disproportionately affected by lung disease.

When David was the Board Chair, he led the Association through the beginning stages of a Capital Campaign to improve our home at 1440 W Washington Blvd.  David helped launch the Capital Campaign in 2017 to address the growing building rehabilitation needs and to modernize the space. “We need a working environment for our staff that matches our mission,” says Yelin.

For David, receiving the DeYoung Medal this year has symbolic significance. David is the same age as his father was when he passed away, after smoking most of his life and then fighting lung cancer.

Both of David’s parents were smokers when he was young. Despite David and his three sister’s attempts at hiding cigarettes or pleading with their parents, they never quit smoking until later in life.  David is a big supporter of RHA’s tobacco policy programs, because he wants to stop cigarettes from getting into the hands of teens. David has advocated with RHA for Smoke-Free Illinois in the early 2000s and most recently Tobacco 21, raising the legal tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21.

David Yelin isn’t slowing down either. “Few people have the opportunity to be involved with an organization that has such an impact on people’s lives,” David says. “It’s a real privilege.”

On behalf of everyone at RHA, thank you David. Thank you for all you have done to make Respiratory Health Association one of the leading lung health organizations in the country.

Let’s Talk About Living Better with COPD

November is National COPD Awareness Month, a time to talk about the disease and raise awareness around symptoms and treatment. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage. COPD affects nearly 16 million Americans, and millions more live with undiagnosed symptoms. Earlier diagnosis can help those living with COPD begin to improve their health and quality of life.

COPD may be a large burden on an individual. Without proper management and education, COPD can affect all sorts of activities of daily living. Anxiety and depression among COPD patients and their caregivers only make the problem worse. If you are living with COPD, it is important to recognize any changes in your symptoms and any limitations on your activities to better manage day-to-day living with COPD. The following are recommendations for living well everyday with COPD.

Recognize the importance of practicing prevention strategies

It is important to monitor changes to physical and mental health when living with COPD. Below is a list of prevention recommendations:

  • Get vaccinated (annual influenza and routine pneumonia);
  • Wash your hands routinely. Stay home when you are ill;
  • Stop smoking if you currently do, and eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke;
  • Review your medication list with your health care providers to ensure the list is current and you know how to properly use your medications;
  • Ensure you have a sufficient supply of medication at home, especially during winter;
  • Be aware of changes in mental health and communicate any changes to your health care provider and informal caregiver (spouse, child, etc.).

Monitor symptoms of COPD

People living with COPD should track symptoms and share any changes with a health care provider:

  • Please share any increase in coughing or difficulty breathing with your healthcare provider;
  • If a new medication is not working for you and not minimizing your symptoms, please tell your health care provider;
  • It is always okay to obtain a second opinion.

Anxiety and depression are common in patients with COPD and their caregivers

Mental health may impact someone’s ability to manage his or her COPD. It is important to be aware of the following:

  • Anxiety and depression in COPD patients is associated with increased COPD flare-ups, increased hospitalizations, longer lengths of a hospital stay, and decreased quality of life;
  • Be an active part of your care team. Be proactive with your physical AND mental health care;
  • Maintain physical activity, especially in fall and winter. Physical activity can have positive benefits on physical health and mental well-being—make sure to talk to health care providers about physical activities you can do indoors or at home.

If you care for someone living with COPD, it’s important to also take care of your own well-being. View RHA’s Caregiver’s Toolkit to learn more about ways you can help support those you care for while taking time for yourself.

If you live with COPD or want to learn more, sign-up to receive our Inspiration COPD Newsletter.

Know the Facts this Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women each year in the United States. Despite that fact, lung cancer receives 3-7 times less federal research funding per death than other well-known cancers. While smoking increases your lung cancer risk, many people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. No matter the cause, people with lung cancer deserve the same attention and focus on new treatments and cures as other patients.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to talk about the disease and consider screening. Some of the most common signs and symptoms linked to lung cancer include:

  • A cough that won’t go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest, back or shoulder pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Being tired
  • Weight loss

If you or someone you know has symptoms or may be at risk for lung cancer, talk with your health care provider about your concerns and to determine whether you are a good candidate for lung cancer screening.

There are a number of ways to help prevent lung cancer:

1) Quit or do not ever start using tobacco: If you smoke or use tobacco in any form, quit. As soon as you quit, your body begins to repair the damage done by smoking.
2) Avoid secondhand smoke: Make your home and car smoke-free. Encourage family, friends and co-workers to quit smoking.
3) Test your home for radon: Simple, inexpensive test kits are available at most home improvement stores.

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.