RHA Partners with Third Graders to Reduce Tobacco Use

You’re never too young to be an advocate.

On Tuesday, December 4, RHA’s Tobacco team visited Ms. Walmsley’s 3rd grade class at the Village Leadership Academy (VLA), a Chicago elementary school with a progressive curriculum model.

VLA is unique because it incorporates social justice into the curriculum. Every grade level chooses a Grassroots Campaign, or service-learning community project to help solve a social problem, for the class to work on together.

Ms. Walmsley’s class identified tobacco and smoking as a problem in their school community, and RHA’s tobacco team was invited to address the class about the dangers of smoking, particularly e-cigarettes, which are a growing concern in schools across the country.

student wrote letter of advocacy to principal

Jamaal, third-grader at Village Leadership Academy, wrote to their principal regarding E-cigarette policy at their school.

The third graders were ambitious and knowledgeable, doing most of their research on E-cigarettes before the Tobacco team’s presentation, Ms. Walmsley reported. Her class asked about the about myths vs. facts, trends in tobacco use, chemicals in a cigarette, and the effects of tobacco use. Sometimes even appearing to “teach” the program leaders.

At the end of the session, each student wrote a letter to their principal, asking her to include language about e-cigarettes in their school wellness policy. The students were eager to make a difference, even at the local school level.

students writing letters of advocacy

Students from Village Leadereship Academy writing letters to their principal about e-cigarettes at their school

Previous work with Village Leadership Academy

In 2015, a kindergarten classroom from VLA identified secondhand smoke as the topic for their community project, and their teacher invited RHA to speak to the students about the effects of tobacco in the home and smoking free housing.

In addition to learning how secondhand smoke impacts their health, these young advocates committed to sending letters to landlords in their communities encouraging them to develop smoking-free housing and send smoke-free pledges to their families.

We hope that reaching these children at a young age and engaging them in advocacy will help keep them healthy and more likely to avoid deadly addiction later in life.

Additional Efforts to Reduce Youth Smoking 

Recently, RHA has led efforts to pass Tobacco 21, legislation that would restrict youth access to tobacco products, at the state level.

As of October 29, 2018, six states — California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine– and hundreds municipalities around the US have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21.

Tobacco21 Update

On Wednesday, November 28, 2018, the Illinois House failed to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of the Tobacco 21 bill, legislation that would reduce youth access to tobacco products.

Governor Rauner vetoed the legislation in August and state senators voted to override Rauner’s veto in November. The override needed 71 votes in the House to pass but only received 62 votes.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) will continue to fight for this cause. Over thirty Illinois communities have already adopted Tobacco 21, covering one-third of the state’s population and many more communities will be taking up the issue in the coming weeks and months.

The statewide legislation will be reintroduced in January 2019. RHA is optimistic about the chances of passage and the incoming governor Jay Pritzker has already indicated he will sign it.

If you’d like to support our Tobacco 21 efforts as an advocate in the New Year, contact Matt Maloney, RHA’s Director of Health Policy, at [email protected]

Pursuing Cures with RHA

Lung disease may be the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, but it receives hundreds of millions of dollars less in research funding compared to other leading causes of death.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is committed to closing this gap and supporting research to explore new and innovative treatments. For many of our researchers, these awards come at a critical point. Our funding can help springboard their research, publish findings and secure additional funding.

Dr. Anna Lam, Northwestern University, was at this critical period in her research in 2016 when RHA awarded her an Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) Research award.

At the time of her award, Dr. Lam’s research was in an exciting but early phase and might have paused without RHA. In order to further her research into new and innovative treatments for IPF, a devastating disease that causes scarring of the lung tissue leading to respiratory failure, Dr. Lam needed to acquire more data that supported her compelling project.

female doctor headshot

Dr. Anna Lam from Northwestern University Medicine

“RHA’s [award] allowed me to continue to work on my research during a critical period.”- Dr. Anna Lam, Northwestern University Medicine

Since receiving the award in 2016, Dr. Lam has received two National Institute of Health grants and a pharmaceutical partnership to continue her research for IPF. Overall, Dr. Lam has received over $3.7 million in research money since RHA’s award provided her with the ability to continue her research.

Dr. Lam’s research, in addition to the work of her colleagues, has changed the dialogue around IPF. In the past decade, new treatments and potential therapeutics have popped up and Dr. Lam is “cautiously optimistic for what the future may hold for [patients].”

Dr. Lam is only one of countless lung disease researchers who needed our help to continue the search for new innovative treatments and potential cures. For every Dr. Lam, there were dozens of other researchers RHA was unable to fund. One of these researchers could have been on the brink of discovering an early detection procedure for COPD or a new less invasive treatment for lung cancer. The tragedy is that we may never know.

RHA is working to provide more funding for new and innovative researchers, furthering the field. Together, we hope to find new treatments and cures to help patients breathe easier.

Join RHA in making an investment in health and our future by making a gift to RHA’s research program.



There’s Something for Everyone at Hustle Chicago 2019

Whether you are a fitness buff, a philanthropic soul, or would do anything your friends tag you in on Facebook—there’s something for everyone at Hustle Chicago 2019.

In its 22nd year, Hustle Chicago continues to attract thousands of participants each February with different motivations for climbing to the top of the iconic building at 875 N Michigan Ave.

Here’s a peek at what inspires three Hustle climbers as they face those 94 floors.

  1. Michelle Ryland: for a unique experience

“I’ve always had a thing for iconic buildings. I am a structural engineer after all, so I decided that I wanted to be able to say that I’ve climbed to the top of the Hancock ,” says Michelle, “I also love being able to do fun things that raise money for charity.”

In fall of 2011, Michelle Ryland was new to Chicago and her structural engineering job at Klein and Hoffman.

On one worksite, she had to walk up several flights of stairs to get to the roof. The building engineer was huffing and puffing by the time they got to the top, but Michelle was hardly fazed. Her coworker suggested she try to climb 1,632 stairs during Hustle.

She did, climbing three years in a row and building a team with fellow alumni from the University of Illinois Architecture School. “I love being part of something that people are so passionate about,” says Michelle of her Hustle experience.

Michelle Ryland and fellow alumni from University of Illinois Architecture School.

Michelle Ryland and fellow alumni from University of Illinois Architecture School.


  1. Nicole Brown: to honor a loved one

“I think about the people I’m doing it for, knowing that they can’t physically do what I’m doing. That helps push me more.”

When Nicole Brown’s one-year-old baby was diagnosed with asthma, she wanted to help improve community lung health. Her mother also lives with COPD, motivating Nicole to support those living chronic lung disease.

A five-time Hustle climber, Nicole and her son Nicholas, who received RHA’s Next Gen Advocate award last summer, are invested in a future free of lung disease.

Woman holding baby in hospital with mask and gown on

Nicole holding Nicholas in the PICU

Read Nicole’s full story here.


  1. Tom Earll: for yourself

“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,”

Tom Earll was told he had two months to live.

After a misdiagnosis of asthma that delayed treatment for years, Tom was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a lung disease that . He needed a lung transplant to live. Tom received a new pair of lungs on December 8, 2015. Last February, he climbed to the top of 875 N Michigan Ave. with his friends and family cheering him on in custom T-shirts that said, “Tom’ Second Wind.”

For Tom, being physically well enough to participate in events like Hustle Chicago is its own victory. Raising awareness and funds for IPF and other lung disease research is icing on the cake.

man walks daughter down the aisle

After his diagnosis, Tom was unsure he would make it to see his daugther get married. Here he is walking her down the aisle.

Read Tom’s full story.

Whether you climb for fitness goals, in honor of a loved one, or for the hype— your participation in Hustle Chicago 2019 helps people with lung disease live better lives by supporting Respiratory Health Association as we work for a future free of diseases like lung cancer, asthma, and COPD.

No matter what your reason, climb with us on February 24, 2019. Spots are available for the Omron Full Climb and the CBS 2 half climb.

Register today.


2018 Successes–We’re Grateful For Your Support

2018 has been a big year for social change, and some of that change is happening right in our own back yard, thanks to your generous support.

This year, Respiratory Health Association has reached great heights in our lung disease research, education, and policy change efforts.

We’re grateful that we get to work with community partners and dedicated supporters to further our goals of clean air and healthy lungs for all.

Here are a few examples of what we’ve accomplished together in 2018.

Education: Helping children living with asthma

In Illinois, more than 330,000 children have asthma, but less than 25 percent of those children have their asthma under proper control.

Currently African American children account for two out of every three emergency room visits for childhood asthma. Our goal: bridge gaps between the research and practice healthy communities to better serve children with asthma.

To address disparities in pediatric asthma emergency room visits in Chicago, RHA convened the Chicago Children’s Asthma Summit in May 2018.

Representatives from University of Chicago Medicine, Northwestern Medicine, Chicago Department of Public Health, and Lurie Children’s Hospital discussed local research, program opportunities, and how to further bridge the gap between research and practice.

In addition, our ongoing asthma programs like Fight Asthma Now have educated more than 14,000 students and 30,000 adult caregivers since the programs started. Education on proper medication use, trigger avoidance, and symptom recognition is a proven method to help people manage their asthma and lead happier, healthier lives. 

Research: Testing the COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit

COPD caregivers are often underprepared for the range of roles and tasks required when tending to a family member or friend with COPD.

To help empower caregivers, Respiratory Health Association (RHA) developed The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit, a comprehensive resource designed based on caregiver, patient and health care provider input.

This year, RHA received funding from a subcontract with NHLBI’s Learn More Breathe Better COPD Program. We used that money to distribute the toolkit to hundreds of caregivers across the Midwest and conduct detailed focus groups and surveys to assess the usefulness and impact of the tool.

This work brings us one step closer to finalizing the Toolkit for wider distribution.

Policy change: Passing stock asthma rescue medication legislation

Prior to the passage of SB3015, legislation that allows schools to keep a stock asthma rescue medication for asthma emergencies, Illinois reported 300,000 asthma-related missed school days per year.

RHA led efforts to introduce and encourage the passage of this statewide law which protects students with asthma.

Based on the work of our advocates and partners, Illinois schools are now better prepared to address asthma emergencies and create a safer environment for all.

“Illinois has made great strides in helping children with asthma attend school without the fear that their schools will be unprepared for an inevitable asthma attack,” said State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria). “SB 3015 will help children even more by allowing asthma medication to be kept at the school, similar to EpiPens.”

Moving forward, RHA plans to assist schools with the implementation of the law, which takes effect January 1, 2019.

These and other lung health victories wouldn’t be possible without our partners, donors, event participants and friends. Your support fuels our pursuit of healthier, more sustainable communities and a future free of lung disease.

Thank you.

15th Annual Living Better Together COPD Conference Hosts 350 Guests

At Respiratory Health Association we work to empower people living with lung disease by teaching them skills to manage their health. With proper care, many people with chronic respiratory disease can live full and active lives.

One way we reach people is through our annual Living Better Together COPD Conference. Nearly 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and many are likely living with early symptoms that haven’t been diagnosed.

On November 15, RHA held our 15th annual Living Better Together COPD Conference (LBT) in Rolling Meadows, IL. LBT is the largest patient and caregiver-focused COPD conference in the country and draws attendees from across the Illinois and northwest Indiana.


Pulmonary rehabilitation student volunteer administering oxygen at the annual Living Better Together COPD Conference in Rollings Meadows, IL.

Pulmonary rehabilitation student volunteer administering oxygen at the annual Living Better Together COPD Conference in Rollings Meadows, IL.

COPD Educational Content

Each year, the LBT conference provides COPD patients and their caregivers opportunities to speak with respiratory health experts, swap notes on best practices, and learn about new techniques for COPD management.

This year sessions included:

  • Understanding COPD Medication

Attendees learn about COPD medications and practice how to use COPD medication devices properly with the support of health care providers.

  • Got Oxygen? Oxygen Use in Daily Living

Covers various oxygen devices on the market and provides insight into which device may work best for participants.

  • Mindfulness-Centering and COPD

An introduction to mindfulness practices and how they may lead to improved COPD management and wellness.

  • Primary Care Providers’ Role in Managing Your COPD

Participants learn how to partner with primary care providers when managing COPD.

  • Care Transitions from Hospital to Home

A practical session on how to develop a plan following a COPD-related hospitalization.

Over 350 guests registered for the day-long conference, and many attendees return annually.

To ensure the comfort and participation of our guests, many of whom rely on portable oxygen devices, Health Care Group Solutions, Inc. donated oxygen to conference attendees. Pulmonary rehabilitation student volunteers from Malcolm X College and Rush University Medical Center administered oxygen throughout the program ensuring that all attendees could enjoy the conference without worrying about their oxygen supply.

COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit

New to the LBT conference this year was RHA’s first-ever focus group for the COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit.

Thanks to a National Health, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Learn More, Breath Better subcontract, earlier this year RHA was able to distribute copies of the toolkit to patients with COPD and their caregivers. During the Living Better Together COPD Conference we received valuable feedback on the usefulness and value provided by the toolkit.

The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit is the first-of-its-kind resource designed based on caregiver, patient, and health care provider input.

The Toolkit is designed around questions like:

  1. How do I help the person I’m caring for manage COPD?
  2. How do I help after a COPD flare-up (exacerbation) or hospital stay?
  3. How do I take care of myself while managing someone else’s care?

With the continued support of NHLBI and feedback from this pilot program, RHA hopes to finalize the toolkit and make it widely available as a resource for people living with COPD and their caregivers.



For a glimpse inside this year’s conference, take a look at our LBT 2018 Instagram story here and the full Flickr album.

RHA Raises $156,000 for the Local Fight Against Lung Disease at Annual CHILL Fundraiser

On Thursday, November 8, Respiratory Health Association participated in LuxeHome’s annual event, CHILL: An International Wine and Culinary Event at the historic Merchandise Mart.

Over 1,000 RHA guests sampled a variety of international wines and gourmet foods from Chicago’s premier restaurants to support Respiratory Health Association’s education, research, and policy change efforts.

RHA supporters take a break from the CHILL fun to smile for a photo.

RHA supporters take a break from the CHILL fun to smile for a photo.

Group enjoying their wine samples at CHILL 2018 in the historic Merchandise Mart.

Group enjoying their wine samples at CHILL 2018.

LuxeHome’s event supports three Chicago area charities–Respiratory Health Association is the longest standing charity beneficiary. The 2018 CHILL event marked RHA’s twelfth year participating.

In addition to ticket sales driven by the RHA host committee, the Association raises funds through an onsite wine pull sponsored by McGrath Lexus, silent auction and raffle.

This year, the silent auction offered packages like:

  • An all-inclusive 7-10 day vacation in St. Lucia
  • Two tickets to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in New York City
  • A guest role in WTTW’s hit show Check, Please!

The success of the silent auction contributed to the overall $156,000 RHA raised for the local fight against lung disease. Thank you to all of our supporters who bid on items.

In addition to the silent auction, RHA is proud to host the Aaland Diamond Jewelers Raffle, with a gorgeous grand prize generously donated by Aaland Diamond Jewelers.

This year’s prizes:

Grand Prize:
One (1) diamond ring by AaLand Diamond Jewelers

Second Prize:
$500 restaurant gift card to Trattoria No. 10

Third Prize:
2015 Bogle Phantom Red Blend California 3L

If you missed CHILL, you can still get in on the raffle fun by purchasing tickets from the RHA website.

Tickets are available until December 14, 2018 11:30 AM CST or until 500 tickets are sold. Perfect timing for a wonderful holiday gift!

Thanks again to all of our CHILL host committee members and sponsors for your continued support of RHA and our vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

Revisit the fun of CHILL 2018 on RHA’s Flickr account.

RHA’s Counsel to Quit Program Takes New Approach to Help People Quit Smoking

Research shows that just 3-10 minutes of counseling from a healthcare provider can increase an individual’s success in quitting smoking by 60%. Unfortunately, smokers often don’t receive counseling when they meet with their doctor, nurse, mental health counselor or other provider. Whether it’s because of time constraints, lack of knowledge about effective tobacco treatment or lack of confidence that counseling patients to quit smoking actually works, many providers do not speak with patients about their tobacco use. But the research is clear— quitting smoking is something providers should be talking about with every tobacco user at every visit.

To help address this issue, RHA developed the Counsel to Quit® brief tobacco intervention training. Counsel to Quit® is RHA’s 60- or 90-minute interactive training program designed to help providers have a conversation with their patients about quitting smoking.  The training is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Ask, Advise, Refer” model, which teaches healthcare professionals to ask their patients if they smoke or use tobacco products, advise them to quit, and refer them to appropriate cessation treatment. Attendees learn to use motivational interviewing techniques to more effectively have a conversation with patients about their tobacco use and motivate them to take steps towards quitting.

Following the training, RHA continues to provide assistance to organizations to help them integrate tobacco use screening and referral processes across their practice. Ultimately, RHA hopes the Counsel to Quit® training will help facilitate system-wide changes in how each organization screens patients for tobacco use, refers them to resources and documents this information in the patient record.

Most recently, RHA offered the Counsel to Quit® training as a webinar for providers unable to attend in-person. Over 40 healthcare and social service providers from the Chicagoland region participated.

To date, RHA has offered Counsel to Quit® to over 1300 providers. Recent research shows that attending a training results in significant improvements in providers’ perceived value of cessation counseling, confidence and ability to discuss smoking cessation and knowledge on the role of electronic cigarettes in tobacco cessation among medical, mental health and other providers. We are proud of these achievements and look forward to continuing our collaborations with health and social service providers to address tobacco use in our communities.

If you would like to learn more about bringing Counsel to Quit® to your organization, contact Lainie Kast, Senior Program Manager at [email protected] or 312-628-0241.

RHA Recognizes Youth Advocates, Awards DeYoung Medal at Annual Recognition Night

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) believes in a future free of lung disease. A world without lung cancer, asthma or COPD. A world with clean air, where everyone breathes easier. RHA can’t build that future without devoted advocates, supporters and partners.

On Thursday, October 11, RHA recognized some of the outstanding volunteers and supporters that share the vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all and help bring it to life.

New this year was the Making A Difference Award for RHA’s Next Gen Advocates. Ranging in ages 7-19, this dedicated group of young people:
• pushed for funding increases in lung disease research
• helped convince lawmakers to adopt laws that better equip schools to handle asthma emergencies
• advocated for Tobacco 21 policies at the local and state level so their generation will not become prey to Big Tobacco

Critical to RHA’s recent advocacy successes, these young people have shared their voices to improve community lung health, and shape lung health policy. Congratulations to Maddie Bertrand, Nicholas Fandl, Michael L. Johnson, Jr. , Michael T. Johnson, Ian Piet, Elizabeth Pyrz, Jon Rivers, and Lauren Wilson.

Young advocates, ranging in ages 7-19, were acknowledged for their commitment to improving community lung health.

It’s wonderful to have new advocates and supporters joining the RHA cause. RHA will flourish if even one of them becomes as dedicated of a supporter as this year’s winner of the Herbert C. DeYoung Medal.

The Herbert C. DeYoung Medal-an award established to honor the late Mr. DeYoung for his 50 years of service—is RHA’s highest honor for volunteer service. This year it was awarded to an exceptional volunteer that demonstrated more than a 20-year commitment to Respiratory Health Association: Cindy Gronkiewicz.

Pictured from left to right: Gina Schwieger, Cindy Gronkiewicz, Joel Africk

Over the years, Cindy has been instrumental in RHA’s asthma, COPD activities, and tobacco control programs, serving on planning committees, providing RHA staff with technical assistance and always recruiting nurses to participate. She serves on the RHA Board of Directors and served as a past Board chair.

Cindy and her husband, Mark, have been generous supporters of RHA’s annual Chill event at the Merchandise Mart, the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, Hike for Lung Health, multiple RHA fundraisers and RHA’s One Home capital campaign for a much-needed rehabilitation of the Association’s West Loop office. Congratulations to Cindy and thank you for all you do.

Other outstanding partners, volunteers and event participants recognized for their contributions to RHA’s success included:

Making a Difference Award for Lung Health Partners
• Office of Epidemiology, Chicago Department of Public Health
• Rush Health System

Making a Difference Award – CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour – Organization
• Purdue University Global

Making a Difference Award – CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour – Individual
• Joan Mulcahy

Making A Difference Award – Hike for Lung Health
• Rebecca Weinberg-Doptis

Making A Difference Award – Hustle Chicago
• Maureen Campbell

Making A Difference Award – Outstanding Volunteers
• Bill and Marilee Kulterman

Making A Difference Corporate Partner Award
• Aurelio’s Pizza

Respiratory Health Association relies on the support and contributions of dedicated individuals and organizations to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better lives. To get involved with RHA, email [email protected] or check out one of our upcoming events.

A Daughter’s Dedication Drives Stacey Woodward to Run

Denny and family

Denny and family

A Daughter’s Dedication Drives Stacey Woodward to Run

This year’s Chicago Marathon isn’t Stacey Woodward’s first, but it may be her most emotional. This marathon is dedicated to her father, Denny Wright, who passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in December.

Stacey is the assistant news director at WBAL TV in Maryland, and a member of Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team for the Chicago Marathon. She’s running for advancements in COPD research as a way to memorialize her father, who spent much of his time learning more about the disease and researching COPD treatments.

“Besides being stubborn, we’re not alike at all,” Stacey laughs of her father.

After serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War, Denny took up flying as an amateur pilot.

“He was diagnosed with PTSD after the Vietnam War, and I think flying was a bit therapeutic for him,” Stacey reflects.

As Denny flew over the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Stacey was across the country in Sacramento. There, in a city where she knew no one, she found a community of runners. In her early 20s she joined a team and began training.

When he was later diagnosed with COPD, Denny had to make several lifestyle changes. Once he was on oxygen he could no longer fly. “That really upset him,” Stacey says.

But Denny continued to seek adventure, including traveling and spending time with friends where he was “always the life of the party.” As travel became increasingly difficult, Denny’s determination and curiosity only grew. He decided to become as informed as he could about his condition, which included reading the latest research on COPD and working with his health care providers to explore additional treatment options.

Denny with a young Stacey

Denny with a young Stacey

The Department of Veterans Affairs later confirmed that chemical exposure during his time in the army had contributed to Denny’s illness, along with several other risk factors. While tobacco use is the most common cause of COPD, environmental factors and genetics also play a role.

Unfortunately, COPD research remains vastly underfunded and the role of environmental factors, including chemical exposure, in the development of COPD isn’t fully understood.

Despite Denny’s effort and attempts to receive a lung transplant, he passed away on December 1, 2017 at 70 years old.

Denny donated his body to science to contribute to the advancement in COPD research. Stacey joins him by running for the Lung Power Team and fundraising for current and future research.

When she struggles during a run, Stacey thinks of her dad—and she surrounds herself with support, including many of his friends from the VFW. There’s a certain amount of stubbornness—perhaps better called persistence—required to run a marathon, and she has her dad to thank for that.

Stacey says of the calm that she experiences after a run, “It’s rejuvenating. Running is a journey. Often I do not look forward to it, but I love the feeling after I’m done.”

To support Stacey and her father’s dedication to COPD research, donate to her fundraising.