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

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.

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.

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.

Living With COPD As Reopening Begins

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

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

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

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

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

Guidance on Caring for Children & Social Distancing

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

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

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

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