Hustle Chicago Climbers Reach New Heights for Lung Health

Several thousand people climbed to the top of an iconic Chicago skyscraper when Respiratory Health Association hosted its 23rd Hustle Chicago® stair climb on Sunday, February 23. Climbers took the stairwells up 875 N. Michigan Ave. to raise awareness and funds for local lung health and clean air programs.

man climbs stairs

“Since the event began in 1998, more than 66,000 climbers have helped raise $17 million for Respiratory Health Association,” said Joel Africk, President & CEO. “These funds support our mission to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change.”

Hustle Chicago® climbers make either a Full Climb of 1,632 steps and 94 floors or a Half Climb of 816 steps and 52 floors. The fastest male and overall climber was Jesse Berg from Chicago who finished in 10:19. The fastest female was Tricia Hess from Crystal Lake, IL who reached the top in 12:16. The 2020 event includes climbers from 26 states ranging in age from 5 to 81 years old. Three of this year’s climbers are lung transplant recipients. The average climb time for the Full Climb of 94 floors is 26 minutes.

“Every year we celebrate the incredible climbers not only for their accomplishment making it to the top, but also the impact they have on those living with lung disease,” commented Africk. “Their participation and fundraising supports the local fight against asthma, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases.”

More than 2,000 of this year’s climbers indicated they have been affected by lung disease or lung health concerns such as asthma, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, smoking, COPD or cystic fibrosis. With the help of climbers’ fundraising efforts, Respiratory Health Association estimates the event will raise $1 million.

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.

Tim’s Climb Celebrates His Second Chance at Life

Written by Amanda Sabino with contributions from Tim Thornton

When Tim Thornton went skiing in March 2017, he didn’t think much of the fact he couldn’t keep up with his wife and daughter. He had always been physically active in a variety of sports and was used to the altitude – having previously lived in Colorado for 15 years – but supposed age was finally catching up with him. On a 7,000 foot elevation hike near Denver that same day, he completed just 300 feet. He sat on the side of the trail as his wife and daughter continued.

man and woman couple

Tim and his wife Malea on Mother’s Day 2019 shortly before his transplant.

That August, as Tim began to accept the slowdown of middle age, he went to his primary care physician with a persistent cough. A chest x-ray showed something abnormal, and a pulmonologist requested a CT scan.

It was just days before his son’s wedding when the CT results arrived, and Tim’s life changed forever. He was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic, incurable disease that causes scarring in the lungs and makes breathing difficult.

Though daunted by the diagnosis, Tim and his family remained optimistic. The wedding celebration went forward as planned. Tim describes the day as pure joy, watching his son begin a future with his new wife.

Even on a day of celebration, Tim continued to confront what his future would hold.

“It isn’t easy being told you have a terminal disease for which there is no cure,” Tim says. “The mental conflicts were enormous. In the back of my mind, I knew I had to face reality, but I also wanted to stay as positive as possible to focus on the goal of staying strong and getting better.”

Tim’s breathing continued to worsen through 2018, and although he danced at his work holiday party, by then his lung capacity was half that of healthy lungs.

Later that winter, Tim caught a virus. His lung capacity plummeted. He began 2019 on oxygen, both at work and at home. By March, his lung capacity was down to 30 percent of normal. He was put on the list to get a lung transplant.

Still, he remained optimistic. He wrote in a blog post that May, “The doctors continue to say they receive a couple of calls per day about possible matches, but they are not ‘quality.’… I am number 1 or 2 on this regional list so I am very optimistic. My health is stable…. I am thankful that my spirit and soul feel healthy and strong.”

Yet Tim found his spirit continuously tested. On May 12, he received a call from the transplant coordinator saying they had found a match. Tim checked-in for surgery that evening, only to find the transplant team had determined the new lungs were not the perfect match.

The wait continued. He knew the call could come at any time. For a transplant to work, however, everything has to go right. Even the common cold can prevent a recipient from receiving new lungs.

man getting breathing levels checked

Tim celebrates his new lungs and breathing like normal again.

“I had full faith in the system and the great people,” Tim says, describing his care team from Loyola University Chicago “You do start getting worried if everything is going to line up,” he admits.

A New Lease on Life

Dr. Dilling, Tim’s pulmonologist and clinical expert in lung transplants, would see him in the hospital halls walking around with his oxygen

tank. With a mixture of amusement and pride in his patient, he’d say, “every time I come around here you’re always walking around.”

Tim would respond with a hopeful smile and say, “Well, you told me to stay healthy.”

As Tim rested in the pre-ICU one night, the hospital bed phone rang. It was Dr. Dilling – and the normally reserved doctor sounded very excited.

man and woman outside

Tim and his daughter Lexi during “Dad’s Weekend” at the University of Illinois, shortly after his transplant.

“I think we found the perfect lungs for you.”

Once Tim confirmed he was ready, the wheels were set in motion. Half of the transplant team hurried to get the lungs in time. The other half of the team prepared for surgery.

Tim’s surgery went well, and within 24 hours of waking up his breathing was strong enough they took out the respirator. Not only was he breathing on his own, but he could even whistle. During the most challenging aspects of his recovery, this was the moment he held on to.

The roller coaster of mental challenges Tim endured has made him grateful every day. His journey with IPF and receiving a transplant inspired him to sign-up for Respiratory Health Association’s Hustle Chicago stair climb.

And every day, he’s able to exercise and train for a little bit longer. “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,” he says. “I am forever grateful to the donor’s family who made the decision to donate the gift of life.”

Tim’s family will join him as part of the Loyola’s Lung Angels team for the February 23 climb at Hustle Chicago. To join Tim on his journey to fight IPF and help fundraise for lung disease research, click here.

Flu Season Continues into Spring

Preventing the Flu Among Adults with Asthma: Spring is Not Too Late for a Flu Shot!

People living with asthma are not more likely to get the flu than others, but face more risks once infected. The flu virus can further inflame airways, triggering asthma symptoms (chronic cough, wheezing, chest tightness) or even making them worse. It may also lead to other lung diseases like pneumonia. This is true for people with mild asthma or whose symptoms are well-controlled by medication.flu shot statistics

A flu shot is the best protection against the flu. Unfortunately, data from the CDC show less than one in three Illinois adults with asthma received a shot this year. This is the lowest number in eight years and well below the national average.

Flu activity is also widespread in Illinois this year. To date, 772 adults and 76 children who have asthma or chronic lung disease were also hospitalized with the flu.

Flu season continues through the spring months. The good news is whether you have asthma or not, there is still time to get a flu shot.
Find a location near you where they are available at vaccinefinder.org.

Jewelry Television Partners with RHA to Support Women’s Lung Health

When you live with lung disease, not only is your breathing affected, but your peace of mind as well. Lung disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

Women, in particular, are at a greater risk of developing lung disease than men. Nearly 21 million U.S. women live with lung diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis. Millions more have early symptoms but haven’t been diagnosed.

The numbers are breathtaking:

  • More than 13 million women in the U.S. have asthma – accounting for 65 percent of all adults with asthma
  • An average of 193 women die each day of lung cancer, one every 7 minutes.
  • An estimated 8.5 million U.S. women are living with COPD. Today, more women die of COPD each year than men.

Despite the data, women’s lung disease research is drastically underfunded compared to other causes of death. This disparity in funding leads to fewer treatment options and poorer health outcomes.

“Women’s lung health is the public health crisis no one is talking about. One out of every six women in the United States is living with chronic lung disease such as asthma, COPD, or lung cancer, yet federal research funding for these diseases is severely lacking,” says Joel Africk, President and CEO at Respiratory Health Association (RHA).

Table that shows disease funding and mortality rates

Despite lung disease as a top cause of death, lung disease research is drastically underfunded.

To address this disparity, RHA launched its Catch Your Breath® Women and Lung Health Initiative.

Catch Your Breath was originally inspired by the life of a woman named Lynn Kotsiantos. From a Chicago suburb, Lynn was a non-smoking, healthy mother of three shocked to learn that she had lung cancer. After a nine-month struggle, she passed away in April 2003 at the age of 42.

In her honor, Catch Your Breath® continues as a women’s lung health awareness campaign. Catch Your Breath® was designed to raise awareness and funding for lung health research and programs. To improve treatments, Catch Your Breath® advocates for increased funding for research to better understand lung disease. The initiative also educates the public and medical professionals about the disproportionate effects of lung disease on women.

Respiratory Health Association's Catch Your Breath Women and Lung Health Initiative logo

One component of the Catch Your Breath® campaign is a partnership with Jewelry Television (JTV).

Throughout the month of February, JTV is offering a variety of promotions to its customers to support RHA and the Catch Your Breath® initiative, including a multicolor butterfly pendant with chain. For each pendant sold, half the sales price will be donated to RHA.

To locate JTV on your local cable provider, click here for the channel finder. JTV also livestreams daily broadcasts on its website.

multicolor butterfly pendant

For every butterfly sold in February, JTV will donate 50% of the selling price to Respiratory Health Association.

“Our partnership with JTV is an important part of our women’s lung health campaign because we can reach such a large audience – it is critical we get people talking about this issue and work to turn the tide in the fight against lung disease,” explains Africk.

Visit womenslunghealth.org to help every woman breathe easier.

Maureen Remembers Her Mother with Each Step

Story written by Amanda Sabino

Joan Flynn challenged herself to take the stairs whenever possible, and her daughter Maureen followed. As Maureen would pause and struggle to catch her breath, the chances of gaining ground on her mother faded. Joan was already waiting at the top stair, joking with Maureen as she had many times before.

“The stairs never get any easier, do they, Maureen?”

Maureen and her mother were best friends. They lived within walking distance of each other and even worked together at Loyola University Medical Center. They spent a lot of time together, enjoying shared loves of exercise, cooking and music – especially Bruce Springsteen.

“My brother Dan, mom and I were big Springsteen fans,” Maureen says. “The three of us would always see him in Chicago when he toured.”

Maureen always drew inspiration from her mother who, as she describes came from very humble beginnings. Joan’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, and she lived in a house with no running water in the bathroom and few possessions. This modest upbringing kept her grounded and thankful for the important things in life as she grew up, began a career in nursing and eventually started a family. She cherished her husband, five children, nine grandchildren and her health.

“Some of the fondest memories that I have of my mom was her helping me with my babies,” Maureen recalls. The bond they shared is clear as Maureen describes how her mother would drop everything to help out when she needed it.

“I miss her so much.”

group of people smiling

Maureen Campbell (second left) and her family team “Joan’s Little Climbers,” at the 2019 Hustle Chicago stair climb.

It was early in 2017 when the family noticed her slowing down a bit. Maureen and Dan were planning the next Springsteen concert, but Joan felt she wouldn’t be able to keep up and turned down the invitation.

In July of that year, Joan was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her immediate reaction was not a question about how someone as healthy as her could have lung cancer, but about her five kids. “What am I going to tell them?” Maureen recalls her asking her physician. Joan never worried about herself.

Joan started treatment immediately at Loyola and fought valiantly, but the cancer continued to progress rapidly. When she was hospitalized in October of 2017, doctors knew there was nothing more they could do.

Maureen remembers the most difficult moment was telling her mother she had to stop radiation treatment. “You fought so hard and did everything you could,” she assured her mom.

Maureen shared the news and her brothers and sisters began gathering at the hospital. With 14 family members in the room, Joan looked around, laughed and said, “What the heck, it’s like Saturday Night Live in here!” With everyone now laughing, they played music and talked about their favorite memories.

Joan lost her life to lung cancer the next night. The funeral included her favorite people, her favorite music and bagpipes. Maureen gave the eulogy, and of course Springsteen played.

Joan’s children remember her love every day, and the injustice of her passing still marks Maureen.

woman smiling

Maureen celebrates completing her second climb in February 2019.

“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer and the least funded. I’m still angry that this horrible disease took my mom. She did everything right.”

The two had talked about how hard her death would be for Maureen – something Joan understood well after having a close relationship with her own mother. Maureen leaned on Joan’s advice.

The loss still ran deeper than Maureen could have imagined. After learning about the Hustle Chicago® stair climb, she signed-up and began training. It helped her get through the first holiday season without her mom.

“The first year, Hustle Chicago saved me. I put all my energy into that. I over-trained. But I would have crawled up the stairs if I had to.”

When she arrived the morning of her first climb, everyone seemed to know Maureen’s story. Even before she exchanged words with the other climbers, she saw the compassion in their eyes. She walked up to the message boards, picked up a pen and knew immediately who she would write to – her mom.

Maureen felt empowered and fueled by her desire to help fund lung cancer research. “She was with me,” she describes. When she climbs, Maureen listens to the playlist they played at her mother’s funeral.

Maureen will climb for a third time in February, knowing her mom lovingly challenges her to take the stairs one more time.

Maureen honors the memory of her mom by committing to be a lung health champion and pledging to raise over $1,000 for Respiratory Health Association. To support Maureen’s fundraising for lung cancer research and RHA’s other work, click here.

children smiling together

The “Joan’s Little Climbers” team after finishing the 2019 climb.

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.

Let’s Celebrate 10 Years of Lung Health Victories

We closed out a decade of work on lung health and clean air with some big successes and lung health victories. 

  • Respiratory Health Association (RHA) reached a settlement with a large, long-running coal plant in Peoria, Illinois – who admitted to exceeding pollution limits. The settlement includes funds for health-related work in the surrounding communities. RHA is currently working with community members to identify opportunities.
  • We created and tested our COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit, providing resources for family and friends as they navigate helping their loved ones with a COPD diagnosis. The early responses from caregivers have been positive. In the words of one caregiver, ”the earlier you get this in the hands of someone the better.”
  • RHA continued to advocate for those living with asthma, and in 2018 worked with the Illinois General Assembly to pass the Stock Albuterol bill. This bill ensures schools have emergency asthma medication on hand in case of an asthma episode. Based off our asthma programming successes, in 2019 we received a one-year extension grant to bring asthma education programming to communities throughout Illinois.

Our success is possible because of your support!

As we look forward to 2020 and a new decade, we are excited to continue to build on what we have accomplished.

  • We are ready to take on vaping companies as we work with Illinois legislators to add e-cigarettes to the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, and work on new legislation that ensures these companies are not preying on teens.
  • We look forward to funding innovative lung disease research – ensuring new projects receive the support they so drastically need.

We hope you can help us continue this momentum and make a gift before the end of 2019. Together we can create a healthier future where everyone breathes easy.

Donate Today

Let’s Work Together to Stop Youth Vaping

Our progress against tobacco is in peril.

In the last 10 years, we’ve worked to create a smoke-free world. We worked toward the passage of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act in 2007, following our success on the Smoke-Free Chicago law in 2005. We educated our legislators on the importance of point-of-sale policy – limiting the ways tobacco companies can advertise in stores.

This year, we raised the tobacco purchase age to 21 – a strategy proven to get cigarettes out of high school social circles and prevent youth smoking.

Together, we’ve shown our government that we want everyone to have access to clean air and be free from Big Tobacco’s lies and predatory marketing.

Yet, as a nation we sit in the middle of a teen vaping epidemic. Despite the vaping industry’s claims of not targeting youth, new investigations show some of the biggest players knowingly tried to addict teens to nicotine. Research now suggests that 1 out of every 4 teenagers has used vaping products.

Parents are concerned. Friends are concerned. Respiratory Health Association is ready to fight.

young students

We will not let vaping turn back our progress. We will do everything we can to prevent a generation of kids from developing dangerous nicotine addiction. RHA is responding to the need in our community.

We are:

  • Preparing for the upcoming Illinois General Assembly session. We are working with legislators to add e-cigarettes to the Smoke-Free Act of Illinois.
  • Collaborating with other health organizations to bring policy forward on banning flavored e-cigarettes.
  • Providing vaping presentations for teens at school and developing a presentation for school staff to deliver directly to students.
  • Incorporating guidance for quitting vaping into our evidence-based tobacco cessation programs.

Want to help your local lung health organization fight for a generation free from nicotine? Consider donating to support our programs, or sign-up to receive e-advocacy alerts to get up-to-date information on our efforts and how you can help lend your voice to our cause.

To learn more about electronic cigarettes and how to talk to teens about the risks of vaping, explore our resources.

We Are Thankful for You

At Respiratory Health Association, we believe in a future free of lung disease. A world without lung cancer, asthma or COPD. A world with clean air, where everyone breathes easier.

In 2019, you helped us achieve so much. Thank you for giving RHA your time. Thank you for supporting our mission of healthy lungs and clean air for all. Thank you for advocating for a world where everyone can breathe easy. Thank you for sharing your story.

Celebrate our successes by looking back at the past 365 days:

Whether as a participant of our special events, a partner in our community work, a donor, or an advocate you have made a difference this year.

For that, we again say thank you!