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

Mia Gives Hope for a Future Where Everyone Breathes Easier

girl behind sewing machine and face masks

Mia has produced over 3,500 masks to help people during the pandemic.

Throughout the years, young people have challenged society to do better and often advocate a different future – the future they wish to inherit.

This year was no exception, and Respiratory Health Association was driven by passionate young people toward a future where everyone breathes easier. One of these young advocates, Mia Fritsch-Anderson, eagerly stepped up to make a difference during the early days of the pandemic.

Mia has been working with RHA since her asthma diagnosis at age five. She has championed asthma protections for students and smoke-free policies at the local and state levels.

When COVID-19 began to spread, Mia was immediately aware of the extra warnings for people living with lung disease. Mia and her family have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure she avoids getting COVID-19, which could lead to a more severe infection because of her asthma. However, she still wanted to find a way to safely continue her work helping the community – and alleviate her feeling of helplessness from being stuck inside.

Mia used her sewing skills to make masks for essential workers and people at increased risk. By June, Mia had made 500 masks. She worked with RHA staff to identify People for Community Recovery, one of our community partner’s on Chicago’s South Side, to help distribute the masks to people in need. Together, we provided the masks and much needed bottled water to teens with asthma and their families.

As the pandemic stretches on, Mia hasn’t stopped making masks. By her last estimate, Mia had made over 3,500 masks! She continues to provide them to people in need and has opened an Etsy shop to sell extras, donating the proceeds to Respiratory Health Association and other charities doing important work during the pandemic.

Teens like Mia continue to inspire us. RHA works hard to advocate with them – creating a world where we can breathe easy. During this year, we have continued to advocate stronger support of our health care system during the pandemic, stronger protections against tobacco companies’ predatory marketing, and stronger air pollution standards.

2021 promises to be a year of change as we join our community partners in advocating support for asthma management programs and the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Illinois, which will protect the air we breathe.

You can join us in celebrating a hopeful future by making a donation this giving season.

COVID-19 Safety This Holiday Season

The holiday season is here women preparing food holiday seasonand with it, questions and concerns about celebrating safely while COVID-19 continues to spread. While the safest option this year is to celebrate with only those in your household and virtually “connect” with loved ones, the CDC has released new guidelines for those who wish to gather in person.

While we know that large gatherings increase the risk of spreading the virus, there is also a risk of spreading the virus in smaller family gatherings. It is best to keep activities limited to those in your household, your social bubble (which may include a caregiver), or others if social distancing can be observed.

Traditional holiday activities like parades, shopping, and other large events pose a high risk. Close physical contact and mixing with people outside of your social bubbles make it easier for the virus to spread. Instead, try shopping online or ask family members to order items for you so you can avoid crowded stores. Other low risk activities include watching sports games, parades, and movies from home. However you choose to celebrate, look at the COVID-19 positivity rates in your community. From this information, decide what best suits your family. And if you go out, always wear your mask!

Lung Disease and COVID-19: An Update

We invited Dr. Khalilah Gates, a pulmonologist from Northwestern Medicine, to share her experiences as a front-line provider during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the virus has affected people living with COPD. Dr. Gates discussed what we know so far about COVID-19 symptoms and testing, and the best prevention practices for people living with lung disease like COPD.

man with lung disease during COVID-19Common COVID-19 Symptoms

The most common COVID-19 symptoms people experience include cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, body aches, headache, sore throat, new loss of smell or taste, and diarrhea. Symptoms vary by person, so it is important to monitor your health. Symptoms can occur between 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Some people who recover from coronavirus have had longer lasting symptoms, including fatigue and cough.

COVID-19 Tests

There are two types of tests that are currently available: viral tests and antibody tests.

  • Viral tests: Collected via nasal swab (most reliable), oral swab, or saliva. Used to
    diagnose an active COVID infection.
  • Antibody tests: Collected through blood draws. A positive antibody test suggests you
    were exposed, but we do not know that having antibodies protects you from becoming
    re-infected.

Prevention Practices for People Living with COPD and Other Lung Diseases

While people living with COPD are not more at risk for getting COVID, there is an
increased likelihood of having a more severe case of the virus. Dr. Gates suggests the
following for people living with COPD:

  • Continue your home medications—now is not the time to stop taking any providerprescribed
    medications that help you manage your COPD.
  • Practice COVID-19 specific guidelines, which include:
    • Wearing a mask. It is very important to wear a mask that covers your
      mouth AND nose when out in public. If you are having trouble breathing
      in your mask, experiment with different fabrics, materials, and types of
      masks. If you continue to have difficulty breathing in a mask, you may
      need to limit the activities you do that require you to wear a mask.
    • Clean your hands often. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20
      seconds. If you do not have access to soap and water, use alcohol-based
      products.
    • Practice social distancing. Limit contact with people and stay six feet
      away from others when possible.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces often.
  • Stay as active as possible. Take walks whenever possible and visit the RHA website for
    tips on exercise while staying home.
  • See your doctor. Hospitals have protocols in place to minimize transmission of COVID-19,
    but many doctors now have the option to use telehealth (which include video visits and
    phone calls).
  • Stay up to date with your vaccines, including the getting the influenza vaccine. Now is
    the right time to be getting your flu shot.

If you would like to learn more about the relationship between COPD and COVID-19, view one of our webinars on-demand.

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.

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.

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!