Building a Healthy Future Together

Your support made it possible for us to have an impact in communities throughout Illinois and beyond this past year. Together we faced new challenges, found new solutions, and made progress toward a future free of lung disease. As we come to the end of our program year, we want to share some of our work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people with lung disease live better lives.

Project STRENGTH for COPD

Thanks to support from the Learn More Breathe BetterSM program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, we created resources that provide information on how people with COPD can live well at home. Each informational packet aims at keeping people with COPD healthy and provides guidance to help build exercise routines, manage breathing, put together a nutrition plan, and more.

Improving Our Asthma Programs

We collaborated with University of Chicago to conduct a formal evaluation of our two asthma programs – Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management. The evaluation showed kids and parents participating in these programs learned a lot about asthma triggers, medications, and staying healthy. The results were even better with repeat sessions.

A New Approach to Quitting

We began testing a new format for our Courage to Quit® program that helps people stop smoking. The new “rolling” model allows people to attend group Courage to Quit sessions with more flexibility, which increases accessibility and makes the program work for more people. We’re pushing forward to expand this idea and increase access to the program in the coming year.

Educational Webinar Series

In August, we launched a new educational webinar series. Lung health content reached nearly 1,000 people on important topics like COVID vaccines, women’s lung health, lung cancer screening, and environmental justice issues. Because the programs were entirely online, we were able to reach a national audience.

Funding Asthma Education

Asthma is the No. 1 cause of school absences due to chronic illness. RHA led an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.

group participating in event to help people living with lung disease

Lung Cancer & COPD Research

We awarded two grants to fund promising research into lung cancer and one new COPD research award. One of the lung cancer studies is looking at a specific gene mutation that can cause cancer even in non-smokers. Our annual Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD was awarded to support the research efforts of Dr. Nadia Hansel at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

School-based Asthma Policy Study

We conducted a study to see how well school staff understand current rules about asthma inhalers in schools. We found that 60% of school nurses in Illinois surveyed didn’t fully understand current rules that allow students to bring and use their inhalers in school. We will now focus some of our program resources on educating school health staff to better serve students.

Investing in Clean Air

In April, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to invest $88.6 million in electric public transportation, school buses, and charging infrastructure for electric cars. For years RHA has given testimony and fought for money to support clean transportation because transportation is a leading cause of air pollution. This investment is a huge victory for clean air.

woman with stat about helping people with lung disease

Women’s Lung Health Research

Thanks to amazing growth in our Catch Your Breath® women’s lung health initiative, we were able to partner with CHEST Foundation to fund a new research award addressing gender disparities in lung disease. Lung disease impacts one in every six US women, and this award will increase research into the unique aspects of lung disease in women.

To learn more about the educational programs, research, and policy work your contributions support, as well as to receive updates on our work toward healthy lungs and clean air for all, sign-up for our monthly newsletter.

If you’d like to support RHA’s work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people living with lung disease, you can donate here.

Why We Stand for Clean Air

Lung health begins with the air you breathe.

Polluted air puts everyone’s lungs at risk for asthma, COPD, and even lung cancer. And our loved ones living with asthma and COPD may experience worse symptoms on bad air quality days.

Unfortunately, more than 137 million Americans – over 40 percent – live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

We cannot create a world free of lung disease without addressing this. Cleaner air will help prevent lung disease and protect the health of people who already live with these conditions.

You can spring into action by supporting our clean air efforts during the month of May.

RHA is one of the leading health voices in the Illinois environmental community. We are dedicated to connecting the dangers of air pollution to health impacts. Our collaborations are leading to some exciting new opportunities that promise cleaner air and healthier lungs for everyone.

  • We recently released a study with researchers at UW-Madison that shows positive health impacts of using clean energy. A transition to power sources like wind and solar may prevent nearly 2,000 people in Illinois from having lung problems (like asthma flare-ups) due to air pollution every year. You can read the full report here. Research like this is key to pass laws that will help everyone in Illinois breathe easier.
  • Along with other groups, we are working toward a clean air future by supporting the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). This bill will reduce air pollution by focusing on renewable energy sources and electric transportation options. This includes significant investment in electric transit buses and charging hubs for personal vehicles. In addition, it includes a plan that converts Illinois to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
  • After years of RHA’s advocacy efforts, the governor announced a new plan in April that will allocate the remaining funds from a 2018 VW settlement for electrifying school buses, which contribute greatly to diesel pollution. Additionally, funds will be used for charging hubs across Illinois to promote electric car ownership.
  • This past year, RHA partnered with organizations and residents in Chicago’s Southeast Side to protest the move of General Iron, a heavy polluting company, to their neighborhood. In May, the city announced a pause on the permitting process. They plan to do a more in-depth study into the health impacts of the move. We are hopeful this will result in a permit denial and commitment to protecting a community long plagued by unequal exposure to air pollution.

Only with your support can we continue the fight to protect our lungs from the damaging effects of air pollution. Together we can create a clean air future for all!

For this month only, a group of generous donors from RHA’s leadership have agreed to match every dollar raised up to $5,000. Donate now. 

Three Asthma Myths Uncovered

More than 25 million people across the U.S. live with asthma. While there is no cure, people can manage their asthma to prevent flare-ups (also known as attacks or episodes) and live well. Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases but also one of the most misunderstood. May is Asthma Awareness Month, and we want to share some common myths about this disease.

Myth: Asthma is a childhood disease.adult man inhaler asthma

While asthma does occur often in kids, adults can develop asthma at any age. In fact, changing hormone levels, allergies, or even illness can cause asthma.
Unfortunately, when many adults start to experience changes in their breathing or can’t keep up like they once did, they assume they’re out of shape or it’s a normal part of aging. Women are at an even greater risk for severe asthma as adults than men.
Remember: it’s important to talk to your health care provider about any changes in your breathing.

Myth: Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are the only symptoms of asthma.

These symptoms are common with asthma, but there are other less-commonly known symptoms that may be early asthma warning signs.
  • Itchy chin or throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Stomach ache: for some children it is hard for them to identify where their pain is coming from so when they say their stomach hurts, in reality it may be hard for them to breathe
Sometimes these warning signs may be mistaken for other things like allergies or colds. It’s important to recognize that these changes may be a sign that someone’s asthma is worsening.

Myth: If you live with asthma, you should not exercise.

People who have their asthma well-controlled should be able to continue doing things they enjoy, like exercise.
Proper asthma management includes:
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Knowing your signs and symptoms of an asthma flare-up
  • Maintaining your supply of asthma medications and carrying it with you as necessary
  • Having an asthma action plan that lists specific steps you should take to prevent or handle an asthma episode
You can help us raise asthma awareness with a donation today. Your gift supports Respiratory Health Association’s programs like Fight Asthma Now©, which teaches kids how to manage their asthma.

RHA Statement on FDA’s Proposed Menthol Cigarette Ban

In Lung Health Victory, FDA Plans New Product Standards to Ban Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars

Today the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to issue product standards within the next year to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars. The decision comes as the result of a citizen complaint filed by public health organizations.

Respiratory Health Association applauds the FDA decision to move forward with greater regulation of these harmful products.

The soothing sensation of menthol cigarettes makes them easier to smoke and potentially harder to quit; and because they feel less harsh, they have greater appeal to new smokers and young people.[i]  In fact, 70% of youth smokers use menthol cigarettes.[ii]  And because big tobacco companies have intentionally marketed menthol cigarettes to Black communities since World War II, it is not surprising that nearly 9 in 10 Black smokers (88.5 percent) of all ages use menthol cigarettes.[iii]

Both the FDA and the U.S. Surgeon General have established that menthol cigarettes contribute to racial health disparities in the U.S.[iv],[v]   Therefore, banning the sale of menthol cigarettes is an important step in broader efforts to achieving racial equity in health.  Further, a ban on all flavored cigarettes and cigars will decrease youth smoking and could increase the impact of successful cessation efforts, particularly among communities of color, low-income communities, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

RHA looks forward to moving toward a policy that focuses on industry accountability and not criminalizing possession.

Respiratory Health Association is committed to continuing to fight to reduce the burden of tobacco-related illnesses in our communities and believe removing flavored tobacco from store shelves is the right thing to do. Big Tobacco, a multi-billion-dollar industry, must be held responsible for the distribution of products that addict young people and increase the harm caused by smoking.

[i] https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/tobacco_industry/menthol-cigarettes/index.html

[ii] Gardiner PS. The African Americanization of Menthol Cigarette Use in the United States. Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2004; 6:Suppl 1:S55-65 [cited 2018 Jun 12].

[iii] https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/traditional-tobacco-products/menthol-facts-stats-and-regulations

[iv] Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes pdf icon[PDF–1.6 MB]external icon. 2013.

[v] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2020.

Clean Air Protects Lung Health

earth day clean air healthy lungs

Did you know more than 137 million Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution? Clean air is critical to protecting lung health. While air pollution is bad for anyone to breathe, it is especially dangerous for people living with asthma, COPD, and other lung conditions.

Breathing polluted air can irritate your lungs and may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, asthma flare-ups, and chest pain. It also puts you at risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and even death.

While we continue to make progress, air pollution remains a serious environmental and health problem. Additionally, as global warming accelerates, climate change will impact public health and put people living with lung disease at additional risk.

By taking small steps together, we can protect our air and our health. Watch this message from Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer.

How to Protect Lung Health and Promote Clean Air

  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible.
  • Try to reduce your waste and recycle.
  • Try to avoid gasoline-powered lawn equipment like leaf blowers.
  • Raise awareness by telling people about the importance of clean air. Sharing this message on social media is a great start!
  • Advocate healthy lungs and clean air for all with us!

COVID-19 Vaccines and Lung Disease

covid-19 vaccines armAs COVID-19 vaccines become available to older adults and people living with chronic conditions like lung disease, it’s important to consider scheduling an appointment for yourself. Older adults, as well as people with COPD, are at greater risk for experiencing more severe health outcomes related to COVID-19. Getting the shot is safe for people living with lung disease and is the best way lower those risks. It also helps protect your loved ones and community.

One of the best ways to schedule your free COVID-19 shot is by calling your primary care provider. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, try calling local pharmacies, clinics, or community health centers. They may have vaccines available for you. If you prefer to make an appointment online, you can do so through Zocdoc. Keep in mind that two of the currently available vaccines require two doses.
In addition, family or informal caregivers who live in Cook County, Illinois are eligible now. Call your local Aging and Disability Resource Center to complete a three-question phone screening. After the screening, caregivers will receive a letter certifying their status as a family caregiver.
The Chicago Department of Public Health is additionally offering a new program for people who have a difficult time leaving home. The Chicago Fire Department will come to homes to provide vaccinations for eligible seniors 65+ and their caregivers. The program is available for Chicago residents who are seniors or people with a disability who:
  • Require in-home assistance or
  • Need equipment and/or accessible transportation to leave home.
If you are interested in receiving your shot at home, fill out this online form and someone will reach out to you via email with more information.

RHA hosts annual stair climb event outdoors in 2021

For Immediate Release

March 23, 2021

Erica Krutsch, Director of Marketing & Communications

734-262-4527

[email protected]

Hustle Chicago® charity stair climb to take place outdoors, with masks April 18

The event benefits Chicago lung health nonprofit Respiratory Health Association

CHICAGO, IL – Amid other signs of spring and a slow return to post-pandemic ways of life, a Chicago tradition will take a new shape in 2021. The Hustle Chicago stair climb, formerly known as Hustle Up the Hancock, will take place Sunday, April 18.

This year’s event will be held outdoors at Soldier Field and will feature several changes to ensure a healthy and safe climb. These efforts included limited capacity, mask requirements, social distancing, and sanitization procedures. There is also a virtual event option available.

“We are excited to be able to host an in-person event for the first time in over a year,” said Joel Africk, President & CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “We are confident that by working with our host venue and medical experts we have modified Hustle Chicago stair climb to provide a safe experience. The event gives people a chance to exercise and support our mission of healthy lungs and clean air.”

Respiratory Health Association hopes the event will raise $500,000 to support local lung health work including educational programs for people living with diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and funding for research into new treatment options for lung cancer and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Participants in the climb come from all walks of life and many are personally impacted by lung disease, including Ron Fiege, a resident of Ingleside, IL.

“I thought ‘what a great way to add a different exercise into my work out and raise some money for a very good cause’ because I have asthma and my sister and a few very close friends have COPD,” says Fiege, who is climbing in his second Hustle Chicago event this year. “When I talk to my sister, and she is smiling through her very short breath, it inspires me and reminds me that I’m very blessed to be as healthy as I’m at this point in my life.”

Limited spaces are still available for the in-person climb for a $55 registration fee and $100 charitable pledge. Virtual event registration costs $35. Visit resphealth.org/hustle to learn more and register.

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A public health leader since 1906, Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is dedicated to its mission of preventing lung disease, promoting clean air and helping people live better lives through education, research and policy change. To achieve that goal, RHA collaborates with researchers in pursuit of new treatments and cures for disease like asthma, COPD and lung cancer; empowers adults and children by teaching them skills to manage their health; delivers evidence-based tobacco cessation programs; and works with lawmakers to craft innovative policies that build a more equitable and sustainable future.

Celebrating Organ Donors and the Lives They Impact

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

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

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

Steve Ferkau     

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

 

 

 

 

man and woman outside

Tim Thornton

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

Read Tim’s story

 

 

 

man walks daughter down the aisle

Tom Earll

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

Read Tom’s story  

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

Protect Your Family with a Home Radon Test

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

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

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

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

Experts recommend testing your home every two years.

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

Sharing Hope for a Future Free of Lung Disease

As we close out a year of many challenges, I am proud of all we have accomplished at Respiratory Health Association (RHA). Together, we have continued to reach for a future free of lung disease.

With the support of our dearest friends, supporters, and partners this year, we made some amazing progress.

Five things give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

 

Our amazing Making a Difference Volunteers

They give me hope and inspiration in their dedication and support of healthy lungs and clean air for all. Whether riding CowaLUNGa to support kids who have asthma or working with people committed to quit smoking, these awardees have lived RHA’s mission and they are amazing.

collage of photos

RHA’s resilient program staff

When respiratory therapists paused their pulmonary rehabilitation programs for patients living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and shifted to help care for COVID-19 patients, RHA stepped up and provided much-needed patient resources. RHA’s new Project STRENGTH (Support for Transitioning Rehabilitation and Exercise Now Going to Home) offers exercise routines and breathing tips COPD patients can use at home.

girl behind sewing machine and face masksOne of RHA’s Next Generation Advocates, Mia Fritsch-Anderson

Mia, a high schooler who lives with asthma, made more than 3,500 masks over the last nine months. Mia donates masks to people in need and sells some with all the proceeds going to charities doing important work during the pandemic.

Our local research community

These scientists have worked tirelessly over the last year to find treatments and new vaccines for COVID-19. The collaboration across the industry has saved countless lives, and RHA is excited to help promote the vaccine in the new year.

Our environmental policy staff and partners

Amidst the pandemic, they have continued to fight for equitable clean air policies and to reduce climate change. The air we breathe has a direct effect on our lungs, and these advocates are committed to protecting the air to ensure we can all breathe better.

These people, and their tremendous work, give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Please join us and make a gift today to help create a tomorrow where everyone breathes easier.

Thank you for being a part of Respiratory Health Association’s community.

Have a happy new year,

Joel J. Africk
President and Chief Executive Officer