Human Interest Archive 2010

Hike for Lung Health

October 3, 2010

 Team Ed
Elite Team II
 Team JefferyTeam Popsie-Doodle 


Team Ed hikes for lung health, honors lung donor

Team EdOn October 3, Ed Kuhn, his family and friends participated in Hike for Lung Health, a multi-charity fundraising walk to support the lung health community.

For Ed, raising awareness and funds for lung disease is personal. Ed has pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that causes lung tissue to thicken and scar to the point that the lungs can no longer function. In 2008, he received a double lung transplant that saved his life. Coincidentally, Hike for Lung Health fell on the 31-month anniversary of his transplant.

"After being diagnosed early in 2005, I looked for support to deal with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and found the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation," said Ed. "Their help and support made it possible for my family and me to come to grips with this typically terminal disease. The doctors, nurses and staff at the University of Chicago Hospitals brought me to the point of transplant."

Ed's son Larry, a Glenview resident, came out with his family to support his dad and to honor Devon Carter, Ed's donor.

"The gift of life was made possible with the lungs from my donor Devon Carter and his family," Ed said. "We walked to honor all of those mentioned so far and in memory of all those who were unable to have a transplant. We walked to raise money for research, so that transplant will no longer be the only option."

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Hike for Lung Health is a 1-mile or 3-mile walk through Lincoln Park to support one of 11 lung health partners. Ed's team raised more than $1,400 to support Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Overall, the event has raised more than $115,000.

To support Team Ed, visit their official team page. To learn more about Hike for Lung Health, visit the official site



Family joins Hike for Lung Health, raises awareness for COPD

Donna DelaneyOn October 3, Donna Delaney-Helma's family participated in Hike for Lung Health, a multi-charity fundraising walk to support the lung health community. Donna's family of 13, including her husband, children, grandchildren and friends walked 3 miles around Palatine's Deer Grove to raise funds and awareness for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

For the past three years, Donna's family has participated in Hike for Lung Health in honor of her fight against COPD. COPD is a chronic lung disease that makes breathing difficult due to damaged lungs, blocked airways or inflamed airways. Donna's condition is so severe that she is on the waiting list for a lung transplant.

"There are so many of us who benefit from these amazing charity partners," Donna said. "It was a humbling experience to witness the generosity of those who contributed to help me through this journey. My faith, family and friends have given me comfort and hope. The love of my husband, children and grandchildren continue to be my inspiration."

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Hike for Lung Health is a 1-mile or 3-mile walk through Deer Grove and Lincoln Park to support one of 11 lung health partners. Donna's team raised more than $750 to support Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Overall, the event has raised more than $115,000.

To support Donna's team, visit their official team page. To learn more about Hike for Lung Health, visit the official site


Team Jeffery raises $5,000 for Hike for Lung Health

Team JeffreyOn October 3, Courtney Firak was joined by friends and family at Hike for Lung Health, a multi-charity fundraising walk to support the lung health community. For Courtney, raising awareness about lung disease is a personal issue.

Courtney's dad, Streamwood resident Jeffery Peters, has pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that causes lung tissue to thicken and scar to the point that they lose their ability to function. He and his family have dedicated themselves to raising awareness for lung disease. Together as Team Jeffery, they spent an afternoon walking a 3-mile course in Chicago's Lincoln Park.

“The most frustrating part of pulmonary fibrosis is the lack of public awareness, as well as the lack of a viable treatment plan," Courtney said. "I am grateful to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation for advocating for patients and their families through events like the Hike for Lung Health. I look forward to the opportunity in the future to get involved with more events that raise awareness and research dollars to help families like my own.”

“Michele, Courtney and I want to thank everyone on Team Jeffery for their great efforts putting us over $5,000 toward Pulmonary Fibrosis research, Jeffery said. "We would also like to thank everyone involved in the hike and have high hopes all the various lung ailments can make headway into cures.”

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Hike for Lung Health is a 1-mile or 3-mile walk through Lincoln Park to support one of 11 lung health partners. Jeffery's team has raised more than $6,000 to support Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Overall, the event has raised more than $115,000.

To support Team Jeffery, visit their official team page. To learn more about Hike for Lung Health, visit the official site


Team Popsie-Doodle Hikes for Lung Health

Team Popsie-DoodlesOn October 3, 2010, Gail Sopron and her family participated in Hike for Lung Health, a multi-charity fundraising walk to support the lung health community.

For Gail, raising awareness and funds for lung disease is a personal mission. Gail lost her father-in-law, Paul Sopron, to pulmonary fibrosis on October 4, 2009. Hike for Lung Health was just one day shy of the anniversary of his death, and Gail and her family used the event to celebrate Paul's life as "Team Popsie-Doodle," in honor of a nickname for Paul.

Walking the 1-mile route beside Gail were Paul’s wife Mary Kay and his daughter, Debbie Glowacki with her husband Ron and son Geoff, and Paul’s youngest daughter, Kay Dean with her husband Bob.

Pulmonary fibrosis causes lung tissue to thicken and scar to the point that the lungs can no longer function. There is no cure for the disease, but it can be managed if it is caught early enough. Gail and her family are committed to raising awareness and funds so that no other family endures a loss like theirs.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Hike for Lung Health is a 1-mile or 3-mile walk through Lincoln Park to support one of 11 lung health partners. Gail's team raised more than $800 to support Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Overall, the event has raised more than $115,000.

To support Gail and her team, visit their official team page. To learn more about Hike for Lung Health, visit the official site


Skyline Plunge! Chicago

September 12, 2010

 Lori DuvallPeter and John Erickson
 Ally Healey
Holly Jamison
 Kathy's Steppers

Lori Duvall to rappel 27 stories, honor Sean

Sean and Lori"It's awesome to be able to rappel down a skyscraper in the middle of Chicago," Lori Duvall said. "Most people think I'm crazy for doing this, but I'm not worried about it!"

On September 12, Lori Duvall will rappel 27 stories down theWit Hotel as part of Skyline Plunge! Chicago, a fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. The event will raise more than $110,000 to support lung health throughout Chicagoland, a cause that Lori takes seriously.

Lori is an occupational therapist who works with children in school to improve their motor skills, social skills and independence. Being in grade schools all day, she sees the impact asthma has on a child's life.

She is dedicating her rappel to Sean, a child with whom she had worked. Though Lori did not work with Sean because of his asthma, in the five years that they worked together, the severity of his symptoms frequently interfered with their appointments and their work.

"Sometimes our appointments would be cancelled because he was in the hospital for a week," Lori said. "I know that has to be scary for the kids and the families. He's a really strong kid and he pushes through and takes it all in stride, but it can't be fun."

Their experience is not a unique one. The asthma hospitalization rate in Chicago is nearly double the national average, and asthma is a leading cause of school absences due to a chronic disease.

Because of his asthma, Sean was not allowed to play outside on days that were under 45 degrees, which meant many of his school days were spent inside while his classmates were at recess. Being restricted from play time meant that he couldn't burn off his extra energy, and it also interfered with the social skills he and Lori were working to build.

"That was very disappointing to me," Lori said. "I tried to figure out if we could have small groups do activities inside so he wasn't by himself, and I also tried to get him to be in gym with another class while his classmates were at recess."

Although Sean is no longer her client, Lori keeps in touch with him and his family. At Skyline Plunge!, they will be watching from the corner of State and Lake Streets as she rappels 278 feet of theWit Hotel.

"I'm definitely excited about rappelling," Lori said. "But with the cause being lung disease, Sean is the first thing that entered my mind. I'm glad to be furthering the cause so that kids like him can play outside."

Funds raised by Lori and other rappellers will support local research and lung health education. For kids with asthma, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago provides school-based programs to improve their self-management and asthma knowledge. In addition, the association is currently involved in various research projects on pediatric asthma.

To support Lori in her rappel or to offer words of encouragement, visit


Erickson twins to rappel 27 stories

"It's a little intimidating to think about climbing over the edge at 27 stories," Pete Erickson said. 

Twin brothers Pete and John Erickson are rappelling 278 feet down theWit Hotel on September 12 as part of Skyline Plunge! Chicago. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the event will raise more than $110,000 to support lung disease research, advocacy and education. Like most of the 100 participants in the event, the brothers have been touched by lung disease. 

John and Pete are dedicating their rappel to the memory of their "Aunt" Phyllis Maggos, a family friend who passed away from lung cancer. The Erickson and Maggos families were close; the parents were friends and the children grew up together. When Phyllis passed away suddenly at only 39 years old, both families were shaken. 

"One day she was fine, the next day she was in the hospital, and before we knew it, she was gone" John said. "It was hard on all of us. If anything we can do would spare another family this kind of loss, it's worth it all."

At the time that she was diagnosed and passed away, John and Pete were seniors in high school. Still, even 35 years later, they remember how the loss affected them and are looking forward to doing something positive in her memory. 

"Plunge! immediately appeals to me because I get to honor Aunt Phyllis," said Pete. He is happy that his fundraising efforts will contribute to lung cancer research as well as smoking-prevention and education for teens. 

Adding to their drive to rappel, John is excited to take on the challenge as someone who is visually impaired. John lost his vision between 12 and 16, and is now fully blind in one eye and sees very little with the other. Still, he is a downhill skier who won the national division in his category, and both brothers participated in Respiratory Health Association's Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-flight stair climb up the famed Chicago building. 

"I like doing stuff that people think I can't do, and Skyline Plunge! is right up there," John said. 

For Pete, the event is more about supporting his brother than it is taking a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rappel 27 stories in the heart of Chicago. 

"I've never done any rappelling, and I don't know what to expect" Pete said. "Had John not been so gung-ho about it, I probably wouldn't have registered. But now that we're committed to doing it together, I'm up for the challenge!" 

For John, this was an opportunity he couldn't pass up. 

"I'm excited about being on top of the building," John said. "I saw the old, old Batman movies on TV, and this is my own little opportunity to be on a movie set." 

To support John's or Pete's fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit or


Ally Healey to take the Plunge! in memory of mom

Written by Ally Healey

On July 10, 2010, Allyson Healey came home to find that her mom, Donna Carol Healey, had stopped breathing.  

Donna had passed away. She was only 55 years old.  

Among other things, Donna suffered from one of the most widespread lung diseases around: emphysema. Emphysema is one of the most common forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and, due to destruction of the lungs over an extensive period of time, it makes breathing extremely difficult for those who suffer from it.  

Although COPD is permanent and irreversible, it can be relieved to some degree with help from inhalers, steroids and in severe cases, at-home oxygen therapy. All of these lung-relievers were utilized by Donna for years, but only helped her for extremely short periods of time. 

"You have no idea how hard that was to watch," Ally said. "To see someone you love so much struggle on a daily basis and knowing there is nothing you can do to make their hurt and pain go's a horrible feeling." 

Further complicating her respiratory problems, Donna suffered from a number of illnesses, including fibromyalgia, atrial fibrillation and osteoporosis. While each can be difficult to manage on their own, having limited oxygen intake from her COPD amplified the effects of her additional health conditions. 

"Due to the cards she got dealt health-wise, my mom had endured an intense amount of physical and emotional pain throughout the course of her life," Ally said. "But no matter what she had to deal with, she never failed to keep that amazing sense of humor. She would always say to me, 'Ally, you just have to laugh.'"

After a 4-day stint in the hospital back in 2008, due to walking pneumonia, the doctors prescribed her at-home oxygen therapy. This meaning she had to breathe through a cannula from an oxygen tank 24 hours a day. If she ever wanted to venture outside of her home, Donna had a travel oxygen tank she had to bring.

"After she was told she had to be on oxygen, her life was drastically altered," Ally said. "She very rarely went outside of our home, and if she did, it was a big deal, as you can imagine. Executing daily tasks that you and I take for granted, such as walking up the stairs and vacuuming, became huge feats to overcome."  

Unfortunately, the irreparable damage to Donna's lungs could not sustain and her body could not continue the daily fight she had been admirably enduring for so many years.

Just five days prior to her 24th birthday, Ally had lost her mom.  

In memory of her mom, Ally is rappelling theWit Hotel as part of Skyline Plunge! Chicago on September 12, 2010. Hosted by and benefitting Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Skyline Plunge! takes participants over the edge a full 27 stories above the intersection of State and Lake Streets. The event will raise more than $110,000 for lung health research, advocacy and education in Chicago.  

"It appealed to me not only for obvious reasons, but also because it's not your average fundraiser in the sense that I will be rappelling myself down a building!" Ally said. " And everything that I will have raised by the end will go directly to lung disease research and education in Chicago, which hit doubly close to home for me."  

To date, she has raised more than $2,000 to support Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. The money Ally raises will support lung health throughout Chicago, from funding research on women's lung cancer, to teaching kids to care for their asthma, to supporting policies that push for COPD awareness.  

"You can't explain the feeling you get when you receive a donation from someone who you haven't talked to in years," Ally said. "It's so nice to have that support and to have people like what you're doing and want to be involved. These people care about me, but more importantly, thought very highly of my mom."  

To support Ally or offer words of encouragement, visit


Kathy's Steppers take the plunge to fight lung disease

Kathy's SteppersOn August 18, Kathy Merkle celebrated the two-year anniversary of her lung transplant, which she received after chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) destroyed her lungs.

In celebration of her health and in honor of all she has faced from diagnosis to recovery, five of her family members –  sisters Julie and Nancy, nieces Anne and Clare and brother-in-law Jonathan – are rappelling down the side of a building. They've aptly named their team "Kathy's Steppers" as they prepare to step over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets.

"With her transplant, Kathy has taken a step toward getting better, so now I'm taking  a step off a building for her," her sister Julie said. "And she is so excited to have us do this. She just beams."

Kathy's road to diagnosis and recovery was similar to many who have COPD. Although an estimated 24 million Americans have the disease, only 12 million have been diagnosed. The lack of awareness for the disease, as well of the stigma associated with smoking-related conditions, keeps many people from coming forward and seeking treatment.

For Kathy, the lack of awareness about the disease led to her being misdiagnosed with asthma. It wasn't until six years after a misdiagnosis that a pulmonologist properly identified her COPD. Because it had progressed so far, her COPD was too severe to manage well, and her health quickly declined.

In February 2008, she was put on a transplant waiting list, and on August 18, 2008, she received her new lung. But the difficulty of living with lung disease was far from over.

Post-transplant, Kathy required assistance around the clock. She is one of eight children, seven of whom live in the Chicago area. Her siblings and her 16 nieces and nephews took care of her before and after surgery, and Kathy was grateful for their support.

"They were all wonderful," Kathy said. "I wouldn't have made it without them. They took care of me; they called me every day. If you have COPD, you can't make it without a support group."

It's a sentiment her family shares. Kathy's sister Nancy, an Oak Park resident, and Nancy's daughter Anne are both nurses. But even as experienced health care professionals, caring for their sister and aunt presented challenges.

"It takes a whole group of people to care for people with respiratory health issues, and we were blessed to have such a large family to take care of Kathy," Nancy said. "We needed to do physical therapy, intellectual therapy, take care of her finances – everything."

"It really brought home the message that it's difficult to live post-transplant," Anne, a pediatric transplant nurse, said. "Not only in the medical sense, but when to eat, what to eat, which medicines to take, and your doses are constantly changing. We were so happy that she got the transplant, but there were many new challenges that we had."

Though she had her ups and downs, Kathy is now two years out from the transplant and doing well. She and her family stay positive, they spend time together at least once a week, and they continue to support Kathy in all that she does.

"Her spirit and her total drive to keep going day after day is what keeps her here with us," Clare said.

In support of all that she has accomplished and in celebration of her health, Kathy's Steppers are rappelling down theWit Hotel in Skyline Plunge! Chicago on Sept. 12, 2010. A fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Plunge! will raise awareness and more than $110,000 for lung disease research, advocacy and education.

Already an active with Respiratory Health Association's COPD work, Kathy couldn't pass up the opportunity to send her family over the edge for COPD programing, such as the association's Living Better Together: COPD Conference and Cruising with COPD, a social event for people who have the disease.

"When Aunt Kathy came to us with the idea of doing Plunge!, I don't think any of us ever really thought twice about it," Clare said. "We all have an adventurous spirit, and it really just made sense for us to do it."

"How can I not do this?" Nancy said. "It's a testament to Kathy's strength and the fact that she and a lot of people struggle with something that doesn't get fair attention."

With the $5,000 the family has committed to raise, the family hopes for smoking prevention and more education and awareness for COPD so that more people can be diagnosed and begin managing their COPD before a transplant is necessary. Although the transplant saved Kathy's life, ideally her COPD would have been caught and managed before it progressed far enough to destroy her lungs.

"It's so important to bring COPD to the forefront and erase the stigma on it," Kathy said. "I really enjoy going to pulmonary rehab and helping people who have COPD come out of the closet and accept it!"

To offer words of encouragement or support their fundraising efforts, visit

Learn more about Skyline Plunge! Chicago or COPD.


Celebrating her 65th birthday 27 stories up

Chris and Holly 
 Chris and Holly

Holly Jamison wanted to do something big for her upcoming 65th birthday. She wanted to prove to herself and others that 65 isn't old, and that it certainly doesn't mean that she has to quit being active. 

"I wanted it to be something that would show the world that when you're becoming a senior citizen, you don't just lie back," Holly said.  

Active in the health and fitness industry for 25 years, Holly wanted to do something to celebrate her health. She wanted to do something physically challenging. Something that helped other people. Something that friends and family could be a part of with her. Something she had never done before. She found Skyline Plunge! Chicago. 

On September 12, Holly will rappel 27 stories down theWit Hotel at the intersection of State and Lake Streets. Her family and friends will be waiting on the ground, watching and cheering as she lowers herself down 278 feet to safely reach the street. It's definitely something she has never done before. 

"Jumping off the side of a building will just be this huge adrenaline rush!" Holly said. 

In addition to the thrill of the event and defying the definition of what "seniors" do, Holly is dedicated to supporting people who have lung disease. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Skyline Plunge! Chicago will raise more than $110,000 for lung disease research, advocacy and education. 

For Holly, the cause is personal. Her sister, Chris, has struggled with bronchiectasiss for more than 40 years. 

"I just wanted to honor her struggles with lung disease," Holly said, her whole face lighting up at the mere mention of her sister.  "She is a very, very neat lady." 

A rare lung disease, bronchiectasis causes Chris's lungs to fill with mucous and makes her more susceptible to respiratory infections but less apt to recover from them. 

"She works really hard to maintain her health as best as she can," Holly said. "But she knows that there are certain things she can't control no matter how hard she works, no matter how much she does." 

Chris's efforts to stay healthy inspire Holly to do even more. 

"It's made me pay attention to my own health and be very grateful," Holly said. 

To support Holly in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit her personal fundraising page.




August 7, 8 & 9, 2010

Lloyd Corrigan
John Fortmann
Steve FriedmanPaul Hagstrom
Bill KultermanJohn Leslie
Jennifer MooreTeam Pactiv


Corrigan family supports lung health 

Corrigan Family
"One night, I got up and couldn't breathe," Lloyd said. "I went into our guest room and I was up for an hour trying to breathe. I didn't know what to do, whether to call 911 or what."

In 2001, the day after he woke up unable to breathe, Lloyd Corrigan was diagnosed with emphysema. Falling under the umbrella of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema is characterized by difficulty breathing due to damaged lungs and is most commonly caused by smoking. Lloyd had smoked for 65 years, but he quit on the day he was diagnosed.

"I've never had another cigarette," Lloyd said. "When I think back to that night, it was easy for me to quit." 

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, but few people have heard of it. Although it is estimated that 24 million Americans have the disease, only 12 million have been diagnosed. Because of the stigma around smoking-related conditions, many people who experience the symptoms of COPD - including shortness of breath, cough and wheezing - are hesitant to seek treatment or a diagnosis.

But Lloyd refuses to let COPD slow him down. He keeps his COPD well managed with medications and a constant supply of oxygen, and he uses a scooter to get around.

"I can't stand to stay home and be sick," Lloyd said.

At 83 years old, he and his wife, Eileen, go on a different international cruise each year. He also makes time to volunteer five days per week, and each Tuesday he volunteers with Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago by providing office support.

"Volunteering is good therapy for me," Lloyd said. "It's something to do, and I like helping people that are doing good."

On August 7, Lloyd and 10 of his family members volunteered to host a water stop on the route of CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, a cycling event hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. The Corrigan family gave out ice water and moral support to the more than 300 riders who take on the first day of the event, which covers 65 miles from Gurnee, Ill. to Williams Bay, Wisc. Stationed at the 57-mile mark on the route, the rest stop was a much needed break before the home stretch to the conference point.

"It was very rewarding and we were all happy to be there," Lloyd said. "The riders all wanted to thank me, but I was there to thank them! Not to be thanked!"

As his wife, Eileen, said after the event, volunteering is the best medicine Lloyd can get. And in addition to volunteering their time, the Corrigan family has raised more than $1,300 to support Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research, advocacy and education.

"My family is very supportive," Lloyd said. "They all worry about me and are amazed by what I do. They may tell me I'm crazy, but they don't tell me I can't." 

To support the Corrigan family in their fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, 

To learn more about COPD, visit


John Fortmann to ride 190 miles for lung health 

John Since 1998, John Fortmann has been riding CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, a 190-mile charity ride hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. He has always been an avid cyclist, but raising awareness and funds for lung disease has a particular importance to him.

"When you can't breathe, nothing else matters," John said. "It's corny, but I've lived it."

As a child, John had severe asthma that led to a series of hospitalizations from the time he was 10 to 16 years old. At the time he was diagnosed, he was given shots of adrenaline and a rudimentary inhaler to treat and manage his asthma. Now, with advancements in treatments and inhalers, John uses a daily controller medicine but rarely needs a quick-relief inhaler.

"When I learned that the association taught kids how to use inhalers and care for their asthma, that touched me," John said. "I remember being largely impacted by my own asthma."

Funds raised by CowaLUNGa support Respiratory Health Association's research, advocacy and education efforts throughout Chicago. For John, that means research for better medications, advocacy so that children can carry their inhalers in schools, and education so that kids know how to care for their asthma. In all, John has raised more than $10,000 on his CowaLUNGa rides.

Now preparing for his 11th ride on August 7, 8 and 9, John is excited to once again take on the route from Gurnee, Ill. to Hubertus, Wisc.

"It's a good workout, and it's nice to get out and go cycling," John said. "It gives me time to get away from things and be out riding in peace and quiet."

To support John in his fundraising or to offer words of encouragement,


Steve Friedman to ride 190 miles to support lung health

Steve"I would be awake all night, curled up into a ball to relieve the pressure on my chest," Steve said.

Steve Friedman was diagnosed with severe asthma at the age of 13. It was 1963, before the days of controller medications and before many people had a good understanding of asthma triggers. Surrounded by people who smoked and pets that frequently triggered his asthma, Steve made many trips to the doctor's office.

"At that point, what they gave you was a shot of adrenaline," Steve said. "So I could breathe, but I ended up running in little circles for an hour."

When he was a teenager, Steve was told by his doctor to join the track team to improve his lung function. He ran track and cross country in high school, despite a less than successful seasons. He recalls getting so far behind his competitors in a meet that he got lost, and once he even fell into the Des Plaines River during a meet.

"I was very, very awful at track and cross country," Steve said. "But every time I finished, I was happy."

Now at 60 years old, Steve has his asthma well under control. Through advances in treatments and by avoiding his triggers, Steve has not needed emergency medical attention in more than 30 years.

"Every two years I go to the doctor, and he renews my prescription," Steve said. "But sometimes they expire before I've needed to use them."

Steve still stays active, but he's taken to biking over the years instead of running. Now an avid cyclist, Steve takes on at least one 20-mile ride each month regardless of Chicago's unpredictable weather.

"I do it for me," Steve said. "I do it to celebrate the fact that I am able to do it and that I can breathe."

One of his favorite rides is the annual CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, a 190-mile ride hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. This August 7, 8 and 9, he is taking on the ride for the ninth time. In all, Steve has raised more than $15,000 to support lung health throughout metropolitan Chicago.

"I like that the money is spent locally and that you can see it in your own backyard," Steve said. "And that it funds research and education for kids with asthma so they don't look at themselves as disabled people, but look at themselves as having an issue that they need to be careful with."

To support Steve in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit his personal


Hagstrom family rides to support lung health

HagstromsWhile other families look forward to spending their summer vacations at the lake or lounging around the house, the Hagstrom will spend this weekend (Aug. 7-9) riding CowaLUNGa, a charity bike tour from Gurnee, Ill. to Wisconsin. They take on the event because it is s good exercise, it raises funds for a good cause, and it brings their family together.

Entering its 14th year, CowaLUNGa Bike Tour is broken into one, two and three days to cover 65, 130 and 190 miles. This weekend, Paul will take on his eighth CowaLUNGa. As his daughters got older, they took on the one and two-day rides as they were able. Kathryn (14) will be riding for her fifth year, and Elizabeth (12) and his wife, Jennfier, are riding for their third year.

"My oldest daughter wanted a challenge and a sense of accomplishment, so she wanted to ride," Paul said. "And after she started, my youngest decided she wanted to ride, too."

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the ride raises awareness and funds for lung diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Many riders on CowaLUNGa dedicate their trip in honor or in memory of a loved one affected by lung disease. Although the Hagstroms are not personally affected by lung disease, they are committed to the cause of raising funds to help kids with asthma.

"More than anything, we do this to help kids," Paul said. "It's just awful to see them when they have asthma attacks. It's just painful to watch."

In all, the family has raised more than $5,700 to support Respiratory Health Association's programs, such as Fight Asthma Now, which teaches kids how to manage and care for their asthma.

For the Hagstroms, CowaLUNGa is a time to be together. They train together by doing practice rides as a family, and they ride together for the first two days of the event.

"It's time together on the road, riding away from normal day-to-day or even weekend activities that we have around the house," Paul said. "We get to ride together as a family, enjoy the country and spend time together. It's wonderful to get away with them."

To support the Hagstrom family in their fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement,


Bill Kulterman to ride 190 miles for fitness, lung health

Bill and KeithIn July 2006, Bill Kulterman was admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure. He weighed 467 pounds, had high blood pressure and was diabetic. Doctors told him that he would die if he didn't make major life changes.

"I decided that I wasn't ready to die and began to finally take care of myself," Bill said.

Bill bought a stationary recumbent bicycle and started cycling in his basement. When he was ready, he started cycling around the block, then around his neighborhood and then around the North Branch Trail of the Cook County Forest Preserve. In just two years, Bill brought his weight down to 195 pounds.

"My whole life, I was never active, and I was never part of an organized sports team, so I've never pushed myself physically," Bill said. "People ask me if I bike to compete, but I only compete with myself. I'm out there every day trying to do better than I did before. "

Bill has had asthma his entire life, so from a young age, his parents and teachers prohibited him from physical activity.

Adding to his breathing trouble, his parents and other family members smoked. In the past five years, Bill lost his dad, his uncle and a close family friend to lung disease.

"We'd go to a family function and come out smelling like were in a bar," Bill said. "It wasn't until my mom quit smoking that she realized how awful it was."'

Now at age 48, Bill is truly active for the first time in his life. He rides his bike 100 miles each week, he is off the more than 10 medications that were needed to keep him alive, his asthma is under control, he is no longer diabetic and his blood pressure is normal.

In honor of the people he has lost to lung disease and because of his love for cycling, Bill is participating in CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, a cycling event hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Bill and his nephew Keith Volante will ride 190 miles over three days from Gurnee, Ill. to Hubertus, Wis. to raise awareness and funds for lung disease.

This will be the longest ride Bill has ever taken. Last summer, he and Keith rode 100 miles along the Illinois River Trail.

"Riding that 100 miles was hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Bill said. "I was so beat, and I was so tired, and now I can't wait to do it again. That's why I want to do CowaLUNGa - it's another hurdle to climb."

To support Bill in his ride or offer words of encouragement, visit his personal page. To learn more about CowaLUNGa, visit


"This is my cause" – John Leslie

John LeslieFrom the first time John Leslie rode a bike he knew this pastime would be a life long passion. Even though John competed in several sports ranging from hockey and baseball to sail boat racing, he always made time to ride his bike for miles and miles on end.

"Biking is the one activity that I never get tired of doing," said John.

A few years ago, a member of John's cycling group told him about CowaLUNGa, a three-day cycling adventure hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. An avid century (100 mile) rider, John knew he was up for the challenge.

"My friends and I wanted to try something new," said John. "CowaLUNGa seemed like the perfect event because I could enjoy the scenic route from northern Illinois to Wisconsin with my friends and meet some new people along the way." Although well-prepared for the cycling, John was not expecting to discover a deeper connection with the event and his fellow participants.

When John joined CowaLUNGa in 2003, he heard the stories of dedicated riders who participated each year to take a stand against lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD), and then it clicked. CowaLUNGa was more than just a fun bike tour, it was an opportunity for John to support close relatives who have encountered lung health diseases.

"During the trip, I helped a fellow rider who had flat tire. After getting to know her, she told me that she was riding for her dad," said John. "It made me think about my own grandfather who had a large part of his lung removed, my father who experienced a stroke most likely due to smoking, my wife's uncle who had lung cancer and finally my two children who were both diagnosed with asthma. All these experiences hit really close to home, and I knew this is my cause."

Through participating in CowaLUNGa, John has inspired his 14-year-old son, Alex, to get involved by volunteering at rest stops. This year's event will mark Alex's third time helping CowaLUNGa riders. John's brother, Edward, will also ride for the third time this year to support his nieces and nephews who have asthma.

"Participating in CowLUNGa with my cycling group, Speedracer, has been a great experience for me," noted John. "Having my brother and son involved makes it all the more worthwhile."

To support John on his ride or offer words of encouragement, visit his personal page.


Jennifer Moore to cycle 190 miles in memory of mom

JenniferJennifer Moore lost her mom, Mary Anderson, to lung cancer in April 2009. Like many people who have lung disease, Mary hid her diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from her family, was hesitant to seek treatment, and even continued smoking cigarettes as she was dying from lung disease.

Jennifer, a Bartlett resident, wants to ensure that more people who have lung cancer and COPD are able to be diagnosed and seek help, and she wants to prevent young people from starting to smoke.

To raise awareness, she is riding 190 miles as part of CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, an event hosted by and benefiting Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Along with more than 200 other riders, Jennifer will ride from Gurnee, Ill. to Hubertus, Wisc. August 7, 8 and 9.

"This ride is in memory of my mom," Jennifer said. "I really wanted to do something in memory of her and to raise money for lung disease."

Mary started smoking in the 1940s, when the hazards of cigarettes were not readily known. By the time she developed symptoms of COPD and lung cancer at the age of 75, the stigma around the diseases kept her from seeking treatment.

Because the onsets of COPD or lung cancer may be gradual, symptoms can be hard to notice until they majorly affect a person. Smoking for 60 years put Mary at high risk, and she developed a persistent phlegmy cough and difficulty breathing, but she did not seek treatment or tell her family about her declining health.

"There is absolutely a stigma associated with COPD," Jennifer said. "There was absolutely no discussion of it; she didn't event tell us about it."

Jennifer and her sister, Marlene, knew that something was wrong. It wasn't until Mary was hospitalized for another health problem that she told her daughters that she was diagnosed with COPD. A short time later, she was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.

Even with the support of her family, Mary did not quit smoking. Like many people who have late stages of lung disease, she was unable to engage in her typical activities because she became short of breath and got too tired.

"Smoking was like a crutch to her," Jennifer said. "She figured she was dying already, and smoking was the one thing left that she could enjoy doing. Right up until the very end, she refused to be on oxygen; she figured the damage was already done."

In April, just four short months after her family knew that she had lung cancer, Mary passed away.

"It was very difficult and very stressful to watch the whole process," Jennifer said. "I'm thankful that my sister is a nurse and was able to translate what the doctors were saying and help our family understand what was going on."

It also helps Jennifer to share her experience with others. As part of CowaLUNGa, she goes on practice rides with other participants, many who have been affected by lung disease. Spending time with other people who have faced situations like hers helps Jennifer heal.

"People always ask how I got involved with the ride, and everyone shares their story, so I talk about my mom a lot," Jennifer said. "A couple of people I've met have lost a spouse or a parent to lung cancer. It's nice to still be able to focus on the positive."

To support Jennifer on her ride or to offer words of encouragement, visit her personal fundraising


Team Pactiv cycles 190 miles, raises $16,000


On August 7, 8 and 9, Pactiv employees brought together family and friends to participate in CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, a charity bike ride hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. 

CowaLUNGa is a one, two or three-day bike tour that covers 190 miles from Gurnee, Ill. to Hubertus, Wisc. The event raises funds and awareness to support Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research, advocacy and education.

For the past three years, a group of Pactiv employees has gotten together to take on CowaLUNGa. This year, the team had 36 members, who raised a total of more than $16,400 to support lung health in Chicagoland.

"Pactiv's support directly supports our efforts to fight lung disease-the third leading cause of death and disability in the U.S.," said Joel Africk, president and CEO for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. "More resources than ever are needed to help us fight lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)."

Based in Lake Forest, Pactiv Corporation uses CowaLUNGa as an opportunity to give back to their community and improve their work environment.

"The biggest benefit to Pactiv Corporation is employee morale," said Joe Doyle, vice president and general counsel for Pactiv. "Our CowaLUNGa team includes people from multiple sites and multiple areas within Pactiv, people that would not likely get to know each other without an event like Cow. It also fit in nicely with our wellness campaign."

To support Team Pactiv in their fundraising efforts to or learn more about CowaLUNGa, visit



United for Lung Health Federal Advocacy Days

April 21 & 22, 2010

Ann Baker

Gloria Linnertz

The New Face of Lung Cancer: Ann Baker's Story


Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-IL), Respiratory Health 
Association Director of Health Policy Matt 
Maloney and Ann. 

Ann Baker, a Cary resident, is a full-time corporate executive, wife and mother of three. Recently, she added the title of lung health advocate to her name.

In August 2008, Ann was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. As a non-smoker, this diagnosis seemingly came out of nowhere.

"I once believed that lung cancer was only a problem for smokers and those continuously exposed to secondhand smoke. Fighting this battle seemed surreal because I never smoked a cigarette a day in my life. So how could this happen to me?" said Ann.

Shortly after her diagnosis, Ann set out on a personal journey to educate herself and others on lung cancer, the leading cancer killer among men and women in the U.S. In fact, this disease kills more people than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers combined. Given its deadly prevalence, Ann was surprised to find that, lung cancer receives less research funding than any of the other major cancers. People with lung cancer, she found, are often blamed for their sickness even though they may have acquired the disease due to genetics or exposure to radon, asbestos or other environmental factors.

"I wanted to feel empowered through promoting research. So much of lung cancer is still a mystery, in part, because of the negative stigma it carries," said Ann. "More and more, women in their forties who do not smoke are diagnosed too late. My mission is to increase awareness and advocate for better advancements in early screening and new therapies."

Ann recently traveled to Washington D.C. with other advocates from Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, and shared her personal story with key congressional staff and legislators including Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill). Ann encouraged lawmakers to support lung-friendly initiatives such as the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act, which aims to create multi-agency government support and reduce lung cancer's mortality rate by fifty percent by 2016. Ann's Congresswoman, Melissa Bean (D-Ill), recently signed on as a co-sponsor of this bill.

"Supporting bills like the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act is my passion because I know firsthand the importance of raising money to back education and treatment therapies," Ann said. "I currently take oral-chemotherapy pills. Because of this non-invasive treatment, my life has been extended! It's hard to believe that four years ago this drug was not available to lung cancer patients."

As Ann continues to spread the message that lung cancer is a major health concern by educating lawmakers and fundraising for research efforts, she draws inspiration from her family: "My kids have half my genetic make-up. So this is about their future as well." She adds, "I don't want my fight with lung cancer to be theirs too."


Gloria Linnertz educates legislators about radon


 Gloria with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). 

Gloria Linnertz of Waterloo, Ill., is a passionate advocate for radon awareness. On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., she met with local and national legislators to educate them about radon.

"Most of the legislators have no idea what radon is or what it can do," Gloria said. "They're the same way I was. I just had no idea."

Radon is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas that is released from the decay of uranium, a naturally-occurring rock in our soil. As radon is released, it seeps through cracks in a home's foundation and into our air. Radon exposure leads to an estimated 22,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year.

Gloria traveled to D.C. as part of a group of advocates from Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago in support of lung-friendly legislation. Gloria focused on gaining support and co-sponsors for the Indoor Radon Exposure Abatement and Detection Act, which will soon be introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

The proposed legislation requires EPA to set a national standard for unsafe radon levels, allows EPA to set standards for radon testing and abatement working trainings, provides grants to states that have radon education and awareness programs, and creates a rebate program to reduce the cost of installing radon-control systems in new homes.

For Gloria, the cause is personal. She lost her husband, Joe, to lung cancer in 2006. When they asked Joe's oncologist what could have caused cancer, he told them smoking and radon gas were the leading causes. Joe hadn't smoked for 27 years. He died six weeks later.

"Most people who have lung cancer are not diagnosed until they are at a very late stage," Gloria said. "This legislation is life-saving. It's easy to test for radon and it's not difficult to fix."

According to EPA regulations, any home with radon levels higher than 4 picocuries per liter should be mitigated. World Health Organization has an even stricter standard of 2.7 picocuries per liter. One month after Joe's death, Gloria learned that their home had a level of 17.9 picocuries per liter. Since then, she has done everything she can to support radon education, mitigation and legislation efforts.

Gloria encouraged a number of legislators to support the Indoor Radon Exposure Abatement and Detection Act, including Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL), Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Now, she's asking others to contact their legislators in support of this bill.

"This bill can save lives," Gloria said. "Communities need to test their homes for radon, then contact their legislators and encourage them to sign on and support this legislation."



Skyline Plunge! Champaign-Urbana

April 11, 2010

Rachel Keeney 
Susan Toalson 

Rachel Keeney to rappel Illini Tower

Rachel Keeney"Who else can say they rappelled off their dorm in college?" said Rachel Keeney, 20.

The University of Illinois student is participating in Skyline Plunge!, a rappelling event on Sunday, April 11, 2010. From 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., spectators can gather on East Chalmers Street and look upward at the façade of Illini Tower to see adventurous participants descending from the rooftop to street level.

Keeney has lived in Illini Tower for the past three years and has been a residential advisor for the last two. She is rappelling for her love of the building, for the adventure, and in memory of her grandmother, whom she lost to lung cancer.

"I'm very adventurous; I've skydived 5 times total, and I probably will do it again," Keeney said. "I heard about plunge, and it's for a great cause, and I'm adventurous already, so why not? You gotta live life to the fullest - I'm young, so I gotta do it while I can!"

Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago is partnering with the University of Illinois' Sports, Tourism, and Recreation Association (S.T.A.R.) to produce the event, which will raise awareness and funds for both organizations. Students, community members and local media personalities will be participating.

Keeney's family lives in Florida, so they will not be able to join her for the event. But they supported her fundraising efforts from afar, and she is preparing a video of her rappel to show her family. Her residents, coworkers and friends will be waiting on Chalmers St. cheering her on.

To support Rachel, visit her fundraising page.


Susan Toalson to rappel 17 stories of Illini Tower

Skyline Plunge! is coming to Champaign-Urbana on Sunday, April 11, 2010. From 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., spectators can gather on East Chalmers Street and look upward at the façade of Illini Tower to see 30 individual rappellers descending from the rooftop to street level.

Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago is partnering with the University of Illinois' Sports, Tourism, and Recreation Association (S.T.A.R.) to produce the event, which will raise awareness and funds for both organizations. Students, community members and local media personalities will be participating.

Susan Toalson, Executive Director of the Urbana Business Association, will be among the adventurers rappelling to raise money in support of lung disease research and programs. Like many of her fellow participants, Susan has a personal connection to the cause: "My husband has asthma, so I know how important it is to do more research to improve understanding and treatments for respiratory illnesses."

But Toalson has a professional connection as well. Simply put, she says, "Our organization would not function without the intern support we receive from the recreation, sports and tourism students each semester." She explains that their intelligence and energy have helped further the mission of the Urbana Business Association, and "this rappel event is just a small way for me to say ‘thank you' for everything the S.T.A.R. students have done for us."

"Plus," she adds as a nervous afterthought, "I'm trying to conquer a little fear of heights..." 

To support Susan or offer words of encouragement, visit her fundraising page



Hustle Up the Hancock

February 28, 2010

 Ann Baker
John and Kelly Duncombe
 Jim Gill and Melissa LaneLiz Gonzalez
 Debbie Harris and Lee OkamotoKim Lemar and Colleen McMahon Horrigan 
 Colleen McMahon and Tom Kedzior  Jay Readey
 Donna Serlin 

Ann Baker

Tracy and Ann BakerAnn Baker was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer in August 2008. She has never smoked a cigarette in her life.

The 45-year-old mother of three hasn't asked for a prognosis. Always an optimist, she is focusing on doing everything she can before she gets any sicker. So for Ann, being diagnosed with lung cancer was a call to action.

"People kind of give you the cold shoulder when you have lung cancer," said Ann.

Even as a non-smoker, Ann was met with blame for her disease. When she was first diagnosed, she felt herself getting defensive when discussing her lung cancer. Now that she has had it for more than a year, she has taken conversations around lung cancer as an opportunity to educate, not to feel guilty.

"Instead of being upset about it, I clear things up with people," she said. "In the process, I make them understand how frustrating it is to have lung cancer!"

Ann points to the visibility of diseases such as breast cancer and diabetes compared with the relative invisibility of lung cancer. She has seen a number of anti-smoking campaigns, but lung cancer can be caused by a number of factors, including radon and asbestos.

"Money should go toward helping people to stop smoking; I don't want to take that away from any effort or campaign," she said. "I just want to see more research on lung cancer. How can we manage or eliminate this horrible illness if there's just not the same kind of money going towards it?"

Ann's passionate awareness efforts are, in part, inspired by her current treatment: an oral non-chemo medication. For her, the treatment is a reminder that there is plenty more information to find, it just has to be funded.

"If you put this energy behind something, anything is possible!" Ann said.

This February, Ann will put her own energy to the test in the name of lung cancer awareness. She will participate in Hustle Up the Hancock, a climb up the stairs of The John Hancock Center. Ann will take on the half-climb, which means she will conquer 52 flights of stairs despite the tumors in her lungs. As a designated Lung Health Champion, Ann has committed to raising $1,000 for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago's lung health research, advocacy and education.

And this is only the beginning for her. Ann will be participating in Hustle alongside other people who have lung disease, and she looks forward to learning about their experiences.

"I want to hear other people's stories and find other areas that I can get support from," she said. "When you mention an illness, you hear about another person's struggles and how they got support. It brings people together in one way or another."


John and Kelly Duncombe

It's safe to say that the John Hancock Center holds a special place in each Chicagoan's heart. For John and Kelly Duncombe, the building isn't just a Chicago icon; it's the place they found each other.

John and Kelly met in February 2008 in the John Hancock Center observatory. They had just completed Hustle Up the Hancock, an annual stair climb fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. John had endured the full climb of 94 flights, and Kelly and her mom, Denise Archambault, had completed the half climb of 52 flights.

Kelly and Denise took on the challenge in honor of Denise being declared cancer-free. Crossing the finish line was a powerful moment. As the two cried in celebration of Denise's recovery and their success in completing Hustle, John offered his congratulations and support.

Denise didn't say anything at the time, but she knew then that Kelly and John were perfect for each other. John caught on quickly, too, and continued talking with Kelly for a while. As they parted ways to head to the ground floor, John said he hoped to have the opportunity to see Kelly again. She agreed, but they didn't exchange contact information.

As fate would have it, they passed each other three more times on their way out of the building, and John finally tore off a piece of his racing bib to give Kelly his phone number. They dated for nine months, and got engaged in December 2008.

"It was just one of those things where the stars were kind of aligned," Kelly said. "It happened perfectly: doing Hustle with my mom, meeting my husband at a really emotional time. It totally happens when you're not looking."

"I pretty much knew after our first date that she was the girl I was going to marry and the exact kind of girl I was looking for," John said.

In honor of the city they love and the place they met, John and Kelly had a Hancock-themed wedding on September 26, 2009. On the night of the rehearsal dinner, John surprised Kelly with a Hancock frosted on the groom's cake, and John's dad presented the couple with artwork he created by juxtaposing a pictures of their church and the Hancock.

Pastor Michelle Miller of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, who performed their ceremony, even used Hustle as the theme of her homily. After talking with Kelly and John's parents at the rehearsal dinner, she used a banana, water bottle and competitor's medal to illustrate their parents' marital advice of "peeling back the layers" to know each other better, enjoying the refreshing nature of each other's company and taking pride in their commitment to each other.

Along with the health benefits and the physical challenge, John and Kelly's love for the event inspired Pastor Miller to participate in Hustle Up the Hancock alongside John, Kelly and Denise this year.

"I did three sessions of premarital counseling with them, and I said maybe I would go with them next year," Pastor Miller said. "I got really amped up about it while writing homily and because I knew it was important to their life."

On February 28, 2010, the four will take on Hustle Up the Hancock with a specific motivation. At the top, Pastor Miller will lead them in a prayer to celebrate their successful climb and their lifelong commitment to each other.


 Jim Gill and Melissa Lane

When asked about his inspiration for participating in Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-flight stair climb up the John Hancock Center, Jim Gill replied "I can't let my daughter beat me!"

As competitive athletes for most of their lives, Jim and his daughter, Melissa Lane, are no strangers to distance events. Jim has been competing in triathlons for more than 30 years, which inspired Melissa to compete in marathons. Although the two spend a majority of the year training separately for their respective events, it has become a November tradition to train together for Hustle Up the Hancock.

And the training isn't easy. They are both in shape for their distance events, but the stair climb works a different set of muscles and requires a different type of energy.

"In a triathlon, you can go slow so you can catch your breath," Jim aid. "With Hustle Up the Hancock, it's intense."

This year will be Jim's 11th Hustle and Melissa's sixth. When the weather gets too cold to swim and bike as part of his triathlon training, Jim comes inside to start his stair training.

"I just turned 60, and every year when I go for a physical the doctor tells me, ‘You're one of my few patients that doesn't take any medication,'" Jim said. "I like to think that's because I've been training all my life. I kind of pride myself on that."

It's a fact that Melissa doesn't easily forget.

"I think about him when I'm on my bad days for training," Melissa said. "He's out there doing this every year, still biking and swimming and running up the Hancock. If he can still do it, I can still do it."

For both Jim and Melissa, the best training is actually running up and down stairs. Each year, they find the tallest building to which they have access to start their climbing, increasing by a few flights each week.

"The driving force is the competition," Melissa said. "I do have people in my life who have been affected by lung disease, so it holds a special place in my heart. It's an opportunity to participate in something with my father, and it's been a great tradition every year."

"We're pretty competitive when it comes to the training part," Melissa said. "But when it comes to the day of the race, he wants everyone to do their best. He's just really excited at that point."

If you're participating in this year's Hustle, Jim and Melissa have one piece of advice: start slow. They agreed that most of the participants who race up the first few flights are huffing and puffing by the 20th floor -- so pace yourself!


Liz Gonzalez

LizOn Feb. 28, 2010, Liz Gonzalez is quitting smoking for good. She has been smoking for 15 years and has never tried to quit before. Although the odds are stacked against her, she's got more than will power to hold her to her goals.

Liz is participating in Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-flight stair climb up the John Hancock Center. A fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Hustle raises more than $1 million for lung health research, education and advocacy in Chicagoland. For Liz, it is an opportunity to reach fitness goals and raise money for lung health along the way.

In support, Liz's friends, family and coworkers have donated more than $1,500 to her fundraising campaign, and she hopes their encouragement will hold her to her goal. She will also use the stories of the people she climbs beside to keep her on track.

"If I kept smoking, I wouldn't be able to look them in the face," Liz said. "It wouldn't be right."

Liz has been and avid exerciser for years. She runs 25 miles each week and when the weather permits, she climbs the rocky stairs of Swallow Cliff in Palos Park, Ill. As she works on her weight and her appearance, the next logical step was to quit smoking.

"At 42, I feel better physically in my own skin than I ever have before," Liz said. "And with all the working out, I'm proud of how I look. I can run for six miles straight, but I can feel it in my lungs."

After she climbs the 1,632 steps from the ground floor to the John Hancock Observatory, Liz says she won't pick up another cigarette. It's a hard challenge, with her willpower and the support of those around her, she is ready for it.

To support Liz in her climb or to offer encouragement, visit her fundraising page.


Debbie Harris and Lee Okamoto

"I feel like I'm taking a breath for all those that can't," Lee Okamoto said.

Lee and her sister Debbie Harris are participating in Hustle Up the Hancock, a fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. The two women will make their way up the 94-flights of the John Hancock Center on February 28, 2010 in memory of their mother.

Lee and Debbie lost their mother, Barbara Goodman, to lung cancer in 2006, just six months after she was diagnosed. By the time she sought treatment, Barbara had stage IV metastasized lung cancer. She was only 65 years old.

"We didn't know much about lung disease, so we didn't take action," Debbie said. "Had we known then what we know now, we would have done things much sooner."

Since then, the women have dedicated themselves to supporting research for lung disease. Each year, Hustle raises more than $1 million for lung health research, advocacy and education. For Debbie and Lee, the lung cancer support is top priority.

"I got into Hustle strictly and only because of the support that it gives to lung research," Lee said. "After she had gotten sick and I saw how little was done for lung cancer, I don't ever want the next person to go through what we went through."

It's a mission shared by most of the 4,000 participants who are affected by lung disease. For the sisters, it creates a space to feel supported in the loss of their mom. They recollected giving out high-fives to climbers they didn't even know, and enjoying the feeling of community they experienced at the event in 2009.

"It's not even about the climb," Debbie said. "The climb is a great accomplishment and it feels good -- don't get me wrong -- but seeing all different kinds of people all together for one main cause is just so tremendous."

And as dedicated as they are to supporting other people who face lung disease, their main motivation is honoring their mom.

"Whether we realize it or not, Deb and I talk about my mom pretty much the entire way up," Lee said.


 Kim Lemar and Colleen McMahon Horrigan

Kim Lemar and Colleen McMahon HorriganWhen they get to the top of the John Hancock Center on February 28, Colleen McMahon Horrigan and Kim Lemar will have a lot to celebrate. They will have made the climb up 1,632 stairs. They'll have raised awareness and fought the stigma of lung cancer. They'll have honored their mothers' memories. And they'll have done it together.

Colleen and Kim have been River Forest neighbors for 13 years. They had been good friends since they met, but what brought them closest was navigating their mothers' early deaths from lung cancer. Having shared the diagnoses, treatments and loss of their moms, Kim and Colleen have a strong bond.

"It was really nice to have support, especially when we lost our moms," Kim said. "We just understood."

Colleen's mom was diagnosed in 1999, and when Kim's mom was diagnosed in 2001, the four women formed a warm, positive support network for each other.

"When she was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer, I just felt like there was a clock ticking," Colleen said. "But for a while, I didn't hear the clock."

Both of their moms were former smokers whose lung cancer escaped the attention of their health care providers until it was too late. Despite seeing a doctor for crippling back pain for more than a year, Kim's mom wasn't diagnosed until her cancer was stage IV.

"The thing that struck us the most as we started going through it was: why wasn't it ever diagnosed?" Kim said. "Once you learn that it's lung cancer, you start to look back and see all the places it was missed. "

But even when she was diagnosed, the stigma associated with the disease was a constant negative force. When Kim told someone that her mother had lung cancer, the automatic response was always, "Well, did she smoke?" Like many, Kim is adamant that no one deserves lung cancer, regardless of whether he or she smoked.

"I don't want other people to go through what we've been through," Colleen said. "It weighs on your heart."

Kim and Colleen are raising awareness and support for lung cancer research, anti-smoking campaigns and better care for lung cancer patients. They want to see more aggressive scanning for lung cancer, longer life expectancies for people who are diagnosed and less of a stigma around the disease.

"I'd make lung cancer a chronic disease instead of an icky life sentence," Colleen said.

On February 28, they will participate in Hustle Up the Hancock, an annual fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. The 94-floor stair climb is the first outreach in their dedication to advocating for better care. They wouldn't think of climbing without each other.

"If you have a pal with you, it keeps you on track," Colleen said. "And you can giggle."

At the top of the John Hancock Center, they'll be surrounded by their families and thousands of other people affected by lung disease. As they honor their moms, they'll be in good company.

"It'll be a celebration when we get there, for our moms and for us," Colleen said. "We'll feel like we did something. "

"That would be the way both our mothers would want it," Kim added.

To support their efforts, visit Kim's or Colleen's fundraising page.


Colleen McMahon and Tom Kendzior

Tom Kendzior was diagnosed with stage III testicular cancer in November 2008. As a 24-year-old competitive body builder who didn't drink or smoke, Tom and his fiancee, Colleen McMahon, were blindsided by the news. He had gone to the doctor for a routine, 15-minute procedure. When he came out of surgery five hours later, doctors had removed a tumor the size of a cantaloupe.

"I almost passed out," Colleen said. "I didn't have words."

Despite having testicular cancer, one of the biggest challenges for Tom has been his lung health. Just hours after the initial surgery, he learned that his lungs were 80 percent filled with fluid and tumors. On August 28, 2009 doctors removed half of one of his lungs and a third of the other.

But for the most part, Tom hasn't slowed down. He used to go to the gym five times each week, pushing himself to the limit, competing in body building events and being a personal trainer in his spare time. And even after his surgeries and chemo treatments, he is able to exercise safely and find new ways to do what he loves.

"I have a tendency to surprise my doctors," Tom said of his drive to keep exercising. On his first trip back to the gym after his initial treatments, his workout quickly escalated from light weightlifting to 10 handstand pushups. "Now, every time they tell me I can do something, they make me it very, very specific as to what I can do."

In honor of all of the lung health research that saved his life, Colleen is participating in Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-flight stair climb up the famed Chicago building. The event is a fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, and Colleen will join more than 4,000 other people in raising more than $1 million for lung health research, advocacy and awareness. The date of the event, February 28, 2010, marks the 6-month anniversary of Tom's lung surgery.

"We were looking for something to do that would help benefit a cause that helped him get where he is now," Colleen said. "So not only are we putting ourselves to a cause, we’re also raising money for it and working on a fitness goal. It’s perfect for Tom. It's got everything he wanted in it."

Initially, Tom had planned to participate alongside Colleen. But now that he is on his fourth chemo treatment, being immunocompromized means he won't be able to join her on Hustle day. Instead, Tom motivates Colleen as her personal trainer by outlining her training and exercising with her when he can.

He and Colleen are hopeful that this treatment will stick. But mostly, the two are thankful that Tom caught the cancer when he did, and that he is able to fight it while he is strong.

"I was in really, really good shape when I started, so I have been lucky," Tom said. "My mentality is: you might as well get me at my healthiest."


Jay Readey

 Chad Readey with his dad, Jay, close behind. 

Jay Readey and his son Chad, 7, are participating in Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-flight stair climb up the John Hancock Center. Hosted by and benefitting Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the event aims to raise more than $1 million for lung health research, advocacy and education in Chicagoland.

Jay first competed in Hustle Up the Hancock in 2005, when some coworkers encouraged him to join their team. An avid cyclist and runner, he took on Hustle for the challenge of climbing the 1,632 stairs.

"I was hooked," Jay said. "And my motivation to participate only grew over time."

As he has climbed Hustle over the last few years, Jay has been drawn into the stories of those around him. A majority of the 4,000 participants say they have been touched by lung disease, and many wear t-shirts or form teams to proclaim their motivations for climbing: remembering a mom lost to lung cancer; raising awareness for COPD; honoring the organ donor whose lungs saved a life.

"It has become something that I care about because I care about the people who are involved," Jay said. "Having that relationship with people who climb for a purpose, I've developed my own passion."

This year, Jay gets to climb beside his son, Chad, who is taking on the full 94 flights of stairs despite having asthma.

"Initially, this wasn't about lung disease," Jay said. "But as I got into it, I learned more about lung issues. And I realized that Chad's asthma is a quality of life issue for him and for us as parents."

To support Jay and Chad or to offer words of encouragement, visit their fundraising page.


Donna Serlin

Donna SerlinDonna Serlin has worked in pulmonary rehabilitation at Edward Hospital for more than eight years. In that time, she has served thousands of patients with a wide range of lung diseases. Like most who work in rehabilitation, she helps her patients to feel better physically. But the unique challenges of lung disease add another layer to her work: fighting the stigma of lung disease.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is the only cause in the top five that is on the rise. More than 10 million Americans have been diagnosed, and an estimated 14 million more people are thought to be undiagnosed. Despite these statistics, COPD is still relatively unknown among the general public.

Because many lung diseases can be caused by smoking, people who have lung disease are often blamed for their situations. But as anyone who has treated, seen or experienced lung disease can tell you: no one deserves having to struggle to breathe. The stigma in combination with the relative invisibility of the disease is particularly difficult on people who are recently diagnosed with COPD.

"People who are in pulmonary rehab often blame themselves," Donna said. "But we encourage them not to look at the past. Instead, let's look at today and do what we can to improve their quality of life."

Through exercise, education and group support, Donna's patients are able to better manage their lung disease and prevent their condition from worsening. Most importantly, they know that they are not the only person who has COPD.

"It's a joy to help people and see them driving again or actually leaving the house with their oxygen tanks when before they didn't want to," Donna said.

Through group pulmonary rehab and a number of social events for people living with COPD, Donna's patients feel more comfortable with the disease. Her patients participate in social and educational events hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to serving people with lung diseases.

"Creating a sense of community is a huge part of what we do here," Donna said. "We focus on getting people to feel better through exercise and education, and we help them see that they are not the only person out there with lung disease."

In recognition of the efforts of Respiratory Health Association to improve the lives of people living with COPD, Donna and 11 teammates are participating in Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-flight climb up the famed Chicago building. They are climbing to raise awareness for to raise awareness for Alpha-1 Antitripsyn deficiency, a genetic disease that can lead to COPD. The team is advocating for anyone who has lung disease to get tested for Alpha-1, and to talk to their healthcare providers to learn more.

To leave a message of support or to donate to Donna and her team, visit their Edward Team Alpha website.