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.

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.

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.

RHA Staffers Hustle For The Mission

On February 24 more than 3,000 people came together in support of a future free of lung disease. A future with healthy lungs and clean air for all. The occasion? Hustle Chicago, RHA’s charity stair climb up 875 N. Michigan Ave., the building formerly called the John Hancock Center.

At RHA we don’t just serve our mission as part of our day jobs – almost every member of our staff participates in our events or volunteers personal time. And this year’s Hustle was no exception. The 2019 RHA Hustlers team brought 21 employees, friends and family together to go the extra mile (or 1,632 steps!) for lung health.

RHA Hustlers team photos at Hustle Chicago 2019

Why We Do What We Do

To share with you some of the passion the team brings to our mission, here’s a quote from RHA Hustlers team captain and RHA staffer, Lesli Vaughan.

“As many of you know, I work in tobacco cessation and prevention at RHA. Mainly that means I work to prevent teens and young adults from starting to smoke or use tobacco products and to help those who do smoke to be smoke free. It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve done in my life.

There’s nothing quite like hearing someone who smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day tell you how proud he is of himself because he is now smoke free for the first time in 40 years. Or see a high school student stand up in front of a room full of legislators to tell them why they should adopt a Tobacco 21 policy.

I always say I’m doing the easy work — it’s these people who do the hard stuff. I’m just there to support them.

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry has loads of money and they fight every single day to get more people hooked on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products.

Despite their non-stop attempts, we can win this battle. But honestly, we need help to do it. As a small non-profit, we don’t have nearly as much money as the tobacco lobbyists that we fight against daily. Your support helps RHA reach new people with our Courage to Quit cessation program and educate more teens, lawmakers, and others about the dangers of tobacco.”

Together the team as raised over $17,000, but we’re still short of our overall fundraising goal for Hustle Chicago 2019.

 

You Can Make a Difference

Thanks to an anonymous donor, all fundraising campaigns in 2019 lead by RHA staff are generously matched $2 for every $1 raised. This effectively triples all gifts given to RHA staff campaigns!

If you’d like to support Respiratory Health Association’s work toward a future free of lung cancer, asthma and COPD and want to see your gift go three times further, donate to one of our RHA Hustlers today.

Joel Africk

Avanthi Chatrathi

Adrienne Hiegel

Mary Rosenwinkel

Magda Slowik

Brian Urbaszewski

Lesli Vaughan

Joann Wong

The Hustle Chicago fundraising deadline is end of day TOMORROW Friday, March 15th.

Tom Earll is Making Memories with Every Breath

When Tom Earll’s daughter, Katy, planned her wedding, she easily chose the venue and the dress. But one heartbreaking fact loomed over it all: Katy didn’t know if her father would live long enough to walk her down the aisle.

“It was very possible that I was going to die and not be at her wedding,” Tom explains. “I kept looking forward to that day. Even at the very end when I was very sick and could hardly get off the couch.”

At that point, Tom had been suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis for 10 years. He was on the transplant list, but his doctor said he had a maximum of two months to live.

As he lay in bed those last two months with his wife caring for him, Tom found strength in his daughter’s future. He fought to be present and create a memory he and his family could cherish.

Man holding baby

Tom with his grandson.

Years before, when he was first diagnosed, Tom only had to wear oxygen while exercising, but by the time of his daughter’s engagement he had to carry an oxygen concentrator and tanks of oxygen wherever he went. As his conditioned worsened, he needed the concentrator even while sleeping.

Tom’s path to this point was not direct: a misdiagnosis of asthma delayed his treatment for years. It wasn’t until Tom sought the help of pulmonologists at Loyola Medicine that he finally arrived at the correct diagnosis and was put on the transplant list.

You have to be “sick to enough to qualify, but healthy enough to qualify,” Tom says, acknowledging the difficult decisions hospitals must make when deciding who receives a transplant and who doesn’t.
Months passed while Tom waited. Katy’s wedding ticked closer.

Then one night, while Tom rested in bed with his breathing labored, the phone rang. The hospital had a pair of lungs for him. On December 8, 2015 he received a bilateral lung transplant.

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,” Tom recalls.

man walks daughter down the aisle

Tom walks Katy down the aisle.

In the end, Tom was able to walk his daughter down the aisle, making a dream come true for them both. “I danced like a fool at her wedding,” he laughs, “and there was always a chair close by so I could sit down and rest.” Because while Tom emphasizes the joy of making new memories without difficulty breathing, his road to recovery is long and some things in his life will never be the same.

“I grew up swimming and boating, and I was in, on or under the water most of my life. I can’t do that anymore. Some days you struggle to win the mental battle. But I always wanted to play the guitar, so instead, I do that now.”

In addition to learning guitar, Tom has taken up a few athletic challenges. Just nine months after his transplant surgery he ran his first 5K with friends and family cheering from the sidelines in custom t-shirts that said “Tom’s Second Wind.”

This year, he saw that Loyola had created a Hustle Chicago team to benefit the lung disease research supported by Respiratory Health Association.

That’s how Tom wound up joining “Loyola’s Lung Angels” and practicing for the climb in his local municipal parking garage, which has 4 floors of stairs. He goes up and down 20 times to reach 1600 steps.

Of the race and the rest of his recovery, he says, “I’m going to keep going at a steady pace.”

To support Tom’s efforts, visit his fundraising page.

The Night that Fuels Nicole’s Fight Against Asthma

Nicole Brown was at home when her one-year-old baby Nicholas began to cry. As hours passed and nothing soothed him, Nicole knew that it was time to call the doctor.

A team of two doctors and a nurse quickly realized that Nicholas was struggling to breathe. They began breathing treatments, checked his pulse, and recommended transferring him to a nearby hospital.

After a final breathing treatment, Nicole left for the hospital. “We just made it,” she describes. There, the doctors and nurses uncovered what Nicholas had been trying to tell them – his left lung had collapsed.

Doctors observed him around the clock, unsure what caused the collapse. The possibility of infectious disease meant Nicole wasn’t able to hug or physically comfort her son.

Woman holding baby in hospital with mask and gown on

Nicole holding Nicholas in the PICU

The PICU moved Nicholas to an isolated room to reduce the threat posed by possible infections. The doctors, nurses and Nicole all wore paper gowns and masks whenever they stepped inside.

With protective garments in place, Nicole was allowed to hold Nicholas again – but only while doctors worked to remove the mucus accumulating in his lungs. Nicholas tried to scream, but couldn’t due to his weak breath. Tears streamed down his face as Nicole held him.

“It was awful. I didn’t want him to hurt, but I knew that I needed to keep him still for the doctors to help him,” recalls Nicole.

Tests soon revealed that Nicholas was not infectious and had responded well to the breathing treatments and the suction from his lungs. The doctors were surprised by how quickly Nicholas’ condition improved and finally arrived at his true diagnosis – asthma, a chronic condition that would have to be managed for the rest of his life.

That was eight years ago. Today Nicole, an engineer at Exelon, is preparing to climb her fifth Hustle Chicago and training five times a week. Her son’s asthma and mother’s COPD are at the forefront of her mind.

Boy smiling in a school photo

Nick in a recent school photo

“Nicholas’ asthma has definitely changed my perspective. I grew up with my parents smoking and I thought it was fine.  I also didn’t know that there are different inhalers– maintenance, preventative and rescue.” Nicholas now takes his maintenance inhaler twice a day. His rescue inhaler is there for him when he needs it.

Nicole hopes to have her son waiting for her at the top of the Hancock.

“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.”

Join us and support those affected by asthma and COPD. Donate to Nicole’s climb here.