Human Interest Archive 2012

Lung Power Team

Alicia and MiaShawn King   


Mother-daughter duo fighting asthma, competing in triathlon

Alicia and MiaWhen Alicia Fritsch's daughter, Mia, was just 1 year old, she was gasping for air so deeply that her ribs were showing. Alicia and her husband, Jim, rushed her to the emergency room, where the doctor diagnosed her with reactive airway disease. In Mia's case, this diagnosis was the precursor to an asthma diagnosis, which put her in and out of the hospital for the next several years, and gave Alicia a lot to worry about as a new mom.

"It's really scary when your child is admitted to the emergency room when they're that little," Alicia said. "They can't tell you that they can't breathe, so you don't know what's going on inside of them. I remember nights when I would stay up next to Mia just to make sure she was still breathing."

As Mia grew older, her family learned to manage her asthma by making sure the adults caring for her knew her asthma symptoms and how to help her use her inhaler to prevent an asthma episode from becoming an emergency. Alicia had been diagnosed with asthma in her early 20s, so she was comfortable teaching Mia how to administer her own medicine. By the time she was 3, Mia could give herself her own treatments with a nebulizer, a machine that delivers medicine in a mist, which is easier for children to take.

Mia was healthy enough to begin dance lessons at 2 and cheerleading lessons at 5. She began competing in Elite USA Pageants with asthma awareness as her platform, and she was recently crowned Tiny Miss Illinois. She is an active girl, but the fear of an asthma episode is always in the back of Alicia's mind.

Alicia knows her daughter's asthma shouldn't stop her from doing what she wants, so she, Mia and the doctors continue to manage her asthma. This year, Mia is 7, and they seemed to have found the right combination of medicine and pinpointed her asthma triggers. Mia has allergies to dust mites and feathers, just like many people who have asthma, so Alicia removed the stuffed animals and feather pillows from her bed. These small changes are helping Mia feel healthier, and Alicia gets to see her daughter enjoy her childhood.

"It recently dawned on me that we haven't had to go the hospital in a while, and I was surprised," Alicia said. "This past school year was the first that Mia didn't go to school exhausted because she'd been up all night wheezing, and this past winter she only went to the emergency room a few times. This is the first year she's been healthy, and as a parent, that overwhelmed me with happiness."

To celebrate her Mia's health, Alicia and Mia are both participating in the Chicago Triathlon at the end of August. They are participating as part of the Lung Power Team, a group of athletes that raises funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs.

"We've participated in Respiratory Health Association's events and advocacy work for years, and now that Mia is growing older, it helps her be aware of all the kids who also have asthma," Alicia said. "We talk about how the funds she raises with the triathlon will go to kids who can't afford asthma medicine or who don't have people to teach them how to use their inhaler. We even talked about that sometimes these things cause children to die from asthma, but that doesn't have to happen."

This summer's hot weather and high air pollution has made it hard for Mia to train for her triathlon outside, but she's excited to hop on her bike - training wheels and all - on August 25. The next day, she and her father will cheer on Alicia when she competes in her triathlon.

For more information on the Lung Power Team or to support Alicia and Mia's efforts, visit


Daughter running in honor of her mom's fight against lung disease

KingWhen Shawn King accompanied her mom to her most recent doctor's appointment, she actually saw the doctor smile about what he had to share. "This isn't something I get to tell a lot of my patients with pulmonary fibrosis," he said, "but your scarring has stopped."

Judy McDonald's story - and good news - is unique. For most people with pulmonary fibrosis, the cause is unknown, but the disease causes irreversible scarring in the lungs, and there are no approved treatment options or cures. The best available option is a lung transplant.

In Judy's case, doctors diagnosed her with pulmonary fibrosis in January and believe she got the disease as a side effect of medicine she was prescribed. Fortunately, if her pulmonary fibrosis has stopped progressing, it could be life-saving. But, she still struggles with the damage it's already caused to her lungs. On a day-to-day basis, pulmonary fibrosis deteriorates a person's lung capacity so much that it makes it hard to do everyday tasks, such as cleaning or walking to the mailbox. Shawn has noticed a change in her mother's capabilities.

"We were recently on a family vacation in Michigan and there were about 100 steps down to the beach," Shawn said. "Last year, my mom would have just taken the steps, but this year she didn't even want to try because she knew she didn't have the lung capacity."

To honor her mother and her fight to regain her endurance, Shawn and her husband signed up to compete in the Chicago Triathlon. They are participating as part of the Lung Power Team, a group of athletes supporting Respiratory Health Association. Lung Power Team athletes participate in races nationwide, and many are personally affected by lung disease. Each Lung Power Team member raises funds that support Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs.

When Shawn participates in the triathlon at the end of August, she will be cheered on by her family and pushed to finish because she knows what's waiting for her. She said the first person she'll look for when she crosses the finish line is her mom.

"My mom is everything in the world to me; she's my best friend," Shawn said. "I know if this would have happened to one of her kids, she would have stayed strong, so I'm doing this for her. I'm using working out and exercising as my outlet to be strong, and the Lung Power Team is helping me motivate myself to get through this and bring awareness to the disease."

Shawn said that with the support of her family, she's been able to train and has nearly reached her $500 personal fundraising goal. For more information on the Lung Power Team or to support Shawn's efforts, visit


Hike for Lung Health

    Edward Gaiters  NCH Pulmonators
    Rick Passaglia


Hospital pulmonary rehab group raises money for lung health

Edward GaitersMore than 30 pulmonary rehabilitation participants at Edward Hospital are working toward achieving their exercise goals while raising money for other people living with lung disease.

The participants are part of team Edward Gaiters and they took part in Hike for Lung Health as virtual walkers. The sixth annual Hike for Lung Health was hosted by Respiratory Health Association on September 23 to raise more than $100,000 for 11 lung health organizations. Hundreds of people walked 1 or 3 miles in Lincoln Park in honor or in memory of people with lung disease and to support lung disease research and education. The virtual walkers option makes it easy for people living with lung disease to reach their Hike goals with the guidance of trained staff and without being hindered by health risks.

"Everyone on Team Gaiters is still walking on treadmills, which they do as part of their normal rehab sessions, but they work harder now to meet their Hike for Lung Health goal," said Donna Serlin, a registered respiratory therapist at Edward Hospital. "I don't think people realized how far they could walk in the six weeks we set for ourselves, and some have already surpassed their goal!"

In pulmonary rehab, participants focus on pulmonary wellness by identifying disease risk factors, achieving goals such as weight gain or loss, troubleshooting problems regarding oxygen and understanding preventative care. For some people in rehab at Edward, their lung capacity is so low that everyday activities such as walking up a flight of stairs can be a challenge, and exercise seems impossible. Donna stresses the importance of keeping the rehab sessions fresh and feasible by using events like Hike to get people excited about being active.

"I wanted everyone to take pride in their success," Donna said. "Just being part of a team and the camaraderie of doing an event together has made it a lot more fun for everyone."

In addition to the benefits from being part of a Hike team, by just taking part in a pulmonary rehab group, nearly everyone can improve their health and overall enjoyment of life.

"Pulmonary rehab is a life-changing experience for most people," Donna said. "As it says in Guidelines for Pulmonary Rehab Programs, it helps people change from ‘being an observer of life to an active
participant.' "

The Gaiters set their team fundraising goal at $600 and they have already passed it by $200. To support the team in their fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit


NCH Pulmonators surpass their triathlon goals

NCH PulmonatorsPulmonary rehab participants at Northwest Community Hospital recently participated in a modified triathlon - a challenge for anyone, but a feat for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases. Even more impressive, the group surpassed their goals by double!

In pulmonary rehab, people living with lung disease focus on pulmonary wellness by identifying disease risk factors, achieving goals such as weight gain or loss, troubleshooting problems regarding oxygen and understanding preventative care. Exercise is an important factor to ease day-to-day activities for people living with COPD, said Mary McNally, a nurse at Northwest Community Hospital and captain for the NCH Pulmonators. Events like this triathlon make exercise a little more enjoyable.

"There's a boredom factor to exercise, sometimes, and the triathlon alleviated some of that because we were talking about the competition and laughing about it," Mary said. "It also exposed participants to exercises they haven't tried before. Some people realized how challenging some of the machines can be, or it helped them say ‘Wow, I've already gone one mile!" and they were encouraged to do more."

Participants were split into teams, and together had to fulfill exercise goals in walking, biking (on recumbent bikes) and "swimming" (using rowing machines). Team Germany swam almost twice the distance of their goal of 15 miles, and Team Japan walked 10 more miles than their goal of 25 miles, proof that they were pushed by their competitive edge.

"We held the triathlon competition over three weeks, and many groups worked so hard to win that they exceeded their goals," Mary said. "It was a team effort, and everyone could contribute in some way, so even if it's hard for someone to walk, they chose another way to be active."

Team NCH Pulmonators held their triathlon as part of Hike for Lung Health. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, Hike is a walk to raise more than $100,000 in support of 11 lung health organizations that support people living with lung disease. The Pulmonators have set a fundraising goal of $1,000. Their team is a virtual team, but on September 23, more than 800 people walked in Hike for Lung Health onsite at Lincoln Park. Teams and individuals walked in honor of individuals affected by lung diseases such as COPD, asthma, lung cancer, ARDS, sarcoidosis and other lung diseases.

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


Wheaton family walks to raise awareness, funds for lung disease

Passaglia familyOn September 23, the Passaglia family joined hundreds of people at the sixth annual Hike for Lung Health in Lincoln Park. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the event raised more than $90,000 for 11 lung health organizations. Participants walked 1 or 3 miles to honor or remember a loved one affected by lung disease and to raise awareness for lung disease research and programs.

The Passaglias walked in Hike for Lung Health to honor Rick Passaglia, who has sarcoidosis. Rick was diagnosed with it in the late '90s after several years of struggling to treat a persistent cough. It wasn't until a pulmonologist did a chest X-ray that it was revealed the cause of the cough was serious. Sarcoidosis causes inflammation in organs, which causes cells to form into clumps that damage the organ. Lungs are the organs most commonly affected by sarcoidosis, and it causes coughing, trouble breathing and chest pain.

"I probably had sarcoidosis for five to 10 years before I got diagnosed," Rick said. "I don't blame the doctors for not diagnosing it. I blame myself for not going further to find out what was wrong with me."

Slowly, the sarcoidosis reduced Rick's lung capacity. It made it hard for him to do simple household tasks that he enjoyed, like washing his cars, and he eventually needed supplemental oxygen if he was going to do any kind of physical activity. In 2003, he once again received bad news; he was diagnosed with leukemia.
"I have four daughters, and the youngest was 9 at the time," Rick said. "She took it really hard."

Rick and his wife were concerned about how his body could cope with the two diseases, but luckily he was treated with what he calls a "leukemia miracle drug." It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration just months before his diagnosis to be used in the first line of defense for leukemia. It worked, and this fall he's been in remission for nine years.

It's been 13 years since Rick was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, and he's learned how to manage his breathing and still be as active as he can. He used to hike 10 miles a week, and although he can only hike 4 miles now, he still enjoys each one. He also pays attention to how the weather affects his health and won't try to fight the elements.

Luckily, Hike for Lung Health was held on a sunny, dry day and Rick easily walked 1 mile. Afterward, he proudly carried around his new grandson at the post-event family fun fest as his granddaughter excitedly watched the Jesse White Tumblers. Rick said sarcoidosis may have changed how he can live his life, but it hasn't stopped him from enjoying it.

"I am grateful for all that I am able to do and don't think of what I no longer can," Rick said. "There are many folks much worse off than me. Life is good."

To offer Rick words of encouragement or donate to Hike for Lung Health, go to



Skyline Plunge! Chicago September

Brent Genseke
 Craig McClure
 MD Practice Solutions Laura Thompson
 Josh and Lita Wallace  


Man rappelling in honor of three generations with asthma

Brett GensekeIn September, Brent Genseke, of Cortland, will step over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets in downtown Chicago. He's bravely rappelling 27 stories of theWit Hotel during Skyline Plunge! Chicago to honor the people in his family who have asthma, including himself.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, Skyline Plunge! Chicago raises awareness and funds for lung disease research and programs. Brent was inspired to sign up for the rappel because asthma has affected three generations of his family: his father, himself and his son.

Brent remembers the night he was diagnosed with asthma clearly, even though it was 20 years ago. He was 12 and lying awake restlessly on the couch, struggling to breathe. His parents drove him to the emergency room in the middle of the night, where he was treated with a chamber inhaler and diagnosed with asthma. At first, controlling his asthma was a challenge.

"During soccer matches or basketball games, asthma episodes would feel as if they'd snuck up on me because I didn't know my triggers yet," Brent said. "I had my inhaler with me more often than I wore a watch."

But like many people with asthma, Brent was determined to not let his diagnosis keep him from being active, so he learned to manage his asthma by avoiding his triggers and using his inhaler to prevent asthma symptoms from escalating to an episode. He continued to play soccer competitively and took up rock climbing.

Seven years ago his son, Isaac, was admitted into the hospital at 11 months old because he was having difficulty breathing. When he was later diagnosed with asthma, Brent wanted to make sure Isaac had the same freedoms he did.

"Isaac was in the hospital with low levels of oxygen in his blood, and when he returned home after a week, his mother and I began giving him medicine every day with a nebulizer," Brent said. "Now that he's 8, we've taught him how to recognize his asthma symptoms and when to take his inhaler on his own."

Although Brent harps on the importance of the two being conscious of their breathing and when they need their medicine, he and Isaac aren't immune to common asthma triggers, such as changes in weather or overexertion during sports. Even well-managed asthma doesn't disappear, and when they have an asthma episode, it can bring them to a complete halt.

"Thankfully it's been rare in recent years that I've had an asthma episode that just dropped me to the ground, but about three years ago on a humid day I had to take a knee during a soccer game and call for my inhaler," Brent said. "When that happens to me, it feels as if I'm breathing through a straw and getting only a quarter of the oxygen my body needs."

Although Brent and Isaac have to be very aware of any chance of an asthma episode, the father-son duo still does what they love. Both play sports - Brent in an adult soccer league, and Isaac on basketball and soccer teams coached by his dad. Skyline Plunge! is another way for Brent to stay active, and since he signed up it's taken on an even more personal meaning. Recently, his father told him he was diagnosed with asthma.

"I've learned just how high the chances are that someone will be affected by lung disease and that it reaches more people than you realize," Brent said.

Brent is currently one of the 10 top individual fundraisers for the event. To support Brent in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to

To register for Skyline Plunge!, go to


Man to rappel a third time for the thrill and for lung health

Craig McClureBeing in the insurance industry, Craig McClure isn't one to take a lot of risks in life. So, when he stepped over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets two years ago, he wasn't expecting to get hooked on the rush of adrenaline from rappelling 27 stories in the heart of Chicago. But he did, and he's getting his fix for a third time this September during Skyline Plunge! Chicago.

Skyline Plunge! Chicago is hosted by Respiratory Health Association to raise awareness and more than $130,000 for lung disease research and programs. Craig initially signed up to step outside of his comfort zone, but as he's shared news of his rappel with others, he said the event has taken on a new meaning for him.

"When I tell someone I'm rappelling a building for Respiratory Health Association - once we got past the ‘You're doing what?!' - they usually tell me how they've been affected by lung disease," said Craig, of Evanston. "Whether it's a parent whose child has asthma, a person who has COPD or a co-worker whose father was a double-lung transplant recipient, I started to realize how many people I touch by participating in Skyline Plunge."

Although Craig is not personally affected by lung disease, he's seen the impact it can have on people. Recently, Craig was at a work function and witnessed one of his coworkers having an asthma attack.

"I didn't even know my coworker had asthma, and all of the sudden she was clearly having trouble breathing," Craig said. "Luckily, she didn't have to go to the hospital, but people started offering her their inhalers, and it hit me just how many people are affected by lung disease that you might not even suspect. It's eye-opening when something like that happens in front of you."

Experiences like those are what drive Craig to sign up for Skyline Plunge! again and again. And it doesn't hurt that while supporting a great cause, he also gets to feed into his thrill-seeking cravings.

"After my first time rappelling, I immediately thought I could enjoy the way down more if I tried it again," Craig said. "The anxiety disappears a little bit each year, but you definitely still have the adrenaline and excitement you felt the first time."

Craig not only expects more out of his rappel each year, but he also expects to get more out of his fundraising efforts. He raised nearly $4,000 with his first two rappels, and again he set his goal at $2,000, twice the minimum. Because of the uniqueness of the event, he said he doesn't find it hard to get people to support the cause.

"There are a lot of worthwhile charity events out there, but it's noteworthy to tell someone ‘I'm stepping off the edge 27 stories in downtown Chicago to support lung health,'" Craig said. "I can set my goal high to raise as much as I can for the association."

To support Craig in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to Learn more and register for the next Skyline Plunge! Chicago on Sept. 8 and 9 at



MD Solutions team builds, honors family with Skyline Plunge!

MD Practice SolutionsOn September 8, six employees from MD Practice Solutions in Westchester will step over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets during Skyline Plunge! Chicago.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, Skyline Plunge! Chicago raises funds and awareness for lung disease research and programs. Participants rappel 27 stories of theWit Hotel in downtown Chicago as spectators cheer them on from the median below. MD Practice Solutions employees signed up for the event as a bonding experience and to honor and remember loved ones affected by lung disease.

The team consists of Scott Benson, Natalie Gulotta, Robin Lance, Dr. Matthew Meadows, Angela Schul and Michaela Simpson. The event caught Michaela's eye because her mother has asthma and her father has sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes inflammation in organs, including the lungs, and causes cells to form into clumps that damage the organ.

"At first, my family didn't know anything about sarcoidosis except that Bernie Mac died from it," Michaela said. "My dad used to be very active, but now simple day-to-day tasks, like walking up stairs or picking up something very heavy, make him short of breath. He just feels tired."

Michaela thought Skyline Plunge! Chicago would be a great way to honor her family, but she was worried her coworkers might have a fear of heights. Luckily, others loved the idea, too.
Angela signed up to rappel in memory of her grandfather, who suffered from emphysema the entire time she was growing up. He was diagnosed when he was 40, and passed away when he was 79.

"Growing up, many of my memories of my Grandpa Mueller included him wheeling around an oxygen tank everywhere we went," Angela said. "My mom was touched when I told her I was going to rappel in her dad's memory. While rappelling, our team members will be thinking of loved ones affected by lung disease who we are honoring through the event."

The employees have grown closer together through fundraising events and sharing their reasons for rappelling. On the day of the event, they will be a cohesive team in their bright red T-shirts and will bring a crowd of family and friends.

"The Plunge will raise funds for a great organization and certainly hits home with our team members," said Angela. "Some of us have respiratory illnesses ourselves, and others have family members with lung disease. It's fun to raise money through such a unique cause to help our loved ones."

The six participants hope to raise $6,000, and are more than halfway to their goal. To support them in their fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to Learn more and register for Skyline Plunge! Chicago at



Woman rappels in honor and in memory of her grandparents

Laura ThompsonAurora resident Laura Thompson stepped over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets on Saturday, September 8. She rappelled theWit Hotel not only to remember family members she lost to lung disease, but to honor those who are living with it.

Laura was one of more than 50 daring participants who signed up for the fifth Skyline Plunge! Chicago. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the event has raised more than $66,000 toward the $86,000 fundraising goal for the association’s lung disease research and programs. Laura – who lives for thrills – was drawn to the event because her grandfather passed away from lung cancer and her two grandmothers have emphysema.

“I’ve seen how much lung disease can affect a person’s day-to-day life,” Laura said. “One of my grandmothers had to move homes because she no longer had the lung capacity to walk up the two flights of stairs to her bedroom. It makes it a lot harder for her to do her normal, daily activities.”

Laura’s grandparents smoked, and she said her parents were very adamant that she never try it. She was never tempted to, especially after hearing about her grandfather’s battle with lung cancer and watching her grandmothers’ health deteriorate.

Although Laura’s grandparents’ health was a big deterrent for her, her uncle smokes and she worries every time he steps outside for a cigarette.

“He definitely gets chastised when he smokes,” Laura said. “He’ll especially hear it from us nieces and nephews, because none of us have even tried it.”

The funds raised from Skyline Plunge! support programs that are near to Laura’s heart, including lung cancer research and smoking cessation classes. It also raises awareness for lung disease, the second leading killer in the United States.

“I wanted to rappel to raise more awareness for respiratory health, because sometimes I feel like it doesn’t get the attention other diseases do,” Laura said. “We need to make everyone aware of the health risks so that they will not have to go through what my family did.”

To support Laura in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to



Chicago man honors father for his fight against lung disease

The WallacesOn September 8, Josh and Lita Wallace stepped over the edge 27 stories above State and Lake Streets in honor of Josh's father, Louis Wallace. Josh was drawn to Skyline Plunge! Chicago, a charity rappel event, after his father was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer in March.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, Skyline Plunge! Chicago will have more than 50 people rappel theWit Hotel to raise funds and awareness for lung disease research and programs. When Josh saw the event he knew he couldn't pass it up.

"My father had been a lifelong smoker but quit two years before his diagnosis," Josh said. "He had a persistent cough and wheezing, but lung cancer was the furthest thing from his mind. Unfortunately, when he went to a doctor, they found a mass the size of a fist in his left lung."

Josh's father and mother live in Florida, so he was not with them during the initial doctor visits. When his mother told him about his father's diagnosis, Josh was devastated. He has other family members who were diagnosed with cancer, and their health deteriorated quickly.

"My first reaction wasn't even what our course of action should be, but it was how long does he have?" Josh said.

Doctors told Josh's family they would be as aggressive with the cancer as they could. Louis started chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The treatments in his chest made it hard for him to eat, and he quickly lost weight and his hair. Still, he stayed optimistic and continued to go to his job as a court clerk when he could.

"He's been extremely courageous through everything, and I never saw him at a point when he was discouraged," Josh said. "I was so impressed with the fight he put up against this. Throughout my life, he's been my role model to stay positive and keep working hard."

The last step in Louis's treatment was low-dose radiation to the brain, as a precautionary measure. He finished that at the end of August, just before he retired from his job.

"He's not feeling his best, but he's no longer feeling his worst," Josh said. "It's been hard living in Chicago and not spending as much time with him as we'd like, but we've cherished all of our time together."

When Josh and Lita rappel theWit Hotel, his mother will be there cheering him on. A plane ticket to Chicago was the one thing she wanted for her birthday - which is September 9 - so Josh's father bought her one. Even with the support of his parents, Josh admits he's anxious about the rappel.

"I'm so happy I'm going down the building with my wife," he said. "We can just look at each other and cheer each other on if we get nervous."

To support Josh in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to


CowaLUNGa Bike Tour

 Johnathon Cook
 Brian Hall        
Karen LanerJim Loechel       
Jason Pyrz 

Johnathon rides CowaLUNGa in memory of his father

CookOn August 4, Johnathon Cook of Naperville will join more than 200 cyclists at the start line of CowaLUNGa Bike Tour in Gurnee, Ill. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the ride raises awareness and more than $200,000 for local lung disease research and programs. Like many CowaLUNGa riders, Johnathon was drawn to the event because of the cause; his father passed away from lung cancer in May.

Johnathon’s father, Dale Cook, first noticed symptoms in November; he was losing weight and had a persistent cough. He was originally diagnosed with pneumonia, but when Johnathon noticed a drastic change in his dad’s personality two months later, he knew something was wrong.

“My father had always been an engaging person,” Johnathon said. “He knew a little bit about everything, and could hold a conversation with anyone. But, suddenly he was in deep thought most of the time, and when he wasn’t, he couldn’t even express himself because his speech and thought process were being affected by something.”

Dale went to the emergency room, where a CT scan and MRI revealed a tumor on his brain and several small tumors on his left lung. He had stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, a disease with a five-year survival rate of less than 1 percent.

“When we heard the treatment options, we knew whatever we chose would just prolong the inevitable,” Johnathon said.

Dale had surgery to remove the brain tumor and started radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Unfortunately, two months later, he had a stroke, and his health quickly declined. He passed away in his and his wife Cherryl’s home in Hinkley, Ill., at age 53. It was Mother’s Day.

Johnathon was inspired to do something in memory of his father, and weeks later he signed up for CowaLUNGa to raise funds for Respiratory Health Association’s lung cancer research and tobacco cessation programs. The one-, two- or three-day ride runs from northern Illinois to southern Wisconsin with a scenic route, rest stops and overnight sites. Johnathon will ride one day of the tour alone, but his wife, Angie, will follow the route to cheer him on. He is looking forward to being surrounded by a community of riders with one common goal.

“Being part of an event like CowaLUNGa, you learn you’re not the only one who’s had to go through something like this,” Johnathon said. “Any money that can be raised for research or preventative programs to keep young adults from smoking is beneficial. Every little bit helps.”

To learn more about CowaLUNGa, visit


Brian uses CowaLUNGa to get fit, honor family

Brian HallIn August, Brian Hall will go on his "greatest biking challenge yet." He will join more than 200 people at the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour start line and cycle 65 miles from Gurnee Mills, Ill., to Williams Bay, Wisc. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the one-, two- or three-day tour will raise more than $200,000 for lung disease research and programs.

Brian, of Lake in the Hills, made a commitment to himself last year to get in shape, and so far his cycling efforts have paid off. He wanted to continue to push himself physically, and he chose to ride in CowaLUNGa. Not only will he reap the health benefits, he will also honor his wife's uncle, Tom Lopatkiewicz, who was his inspiration to get fit.

Like Brian and other family members, Tom wasn't always so conscious of how much physical activity he got or what he ate. So in 2008, when he noticed he was getting short of breath, he initially wrote it off as the result of being 58 and overweight. However, when he developed a dry hacking cough six months later, he paid a visit to his doctor, who told him he would need a lung biopsy.

"Tom is an ex-smoker, but gave up the habit 30 years ago," Brian said. "Still, he started to get scared."

When the results came back, it confirmed Tom and his wife's suspicions. It wasn't lung cancer, but another chronic lung disease: pulmonary fibrosis. The disease causes scarring of the lung tissue and makes it progressively harder to breathe. There is no cure, but a lung transplant is an option for some people. Tom met with a transplant team as soon as he could, and started to follow their advice.

"He changed some habits and started adding new healthy alternatives," Brian said. "He lost 40 pounds, and that has helped with his breathing. He has listened to everything that the doctors are telling him, and breathing is getting a little easier every day. The commitment he has made to change his lifestyle has been amazing, and family members have started doing the same."

For Brian, that meant watching what he ate and being more active by biking. Once he started biking, he met others who did too, and he and two coworkers at TEKsystems formed a three-man CowaLUNGa team in Tom's name. Their team will ride one-day of the tour, but participants have the choice to ride up to 190 miles over three days. This is Brian's longest ride yet, and he said support from his teammates and thoughts of Tom's hard work are what will keep him pedaling.

"Tom is not going to give up and has overcome so much to ensure that he is here for his family and friends," Brian said. "I couldn't be more honored to have our team ride for Tom in our first CowaLUNGa Bike Tour."

For more information or to register, go to


Karen to embark on 12th CowaLUNGa Bike Tour

Karen LanerKaren Laner, of Morton Grove, will ride in her 12th CowaLUNGa Bike Tour this August and join more than 200 cyclists at the start line in Gurnee, Ill. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the ride raises more than $200,000 each year for local lung disease research and programs.

The three-day, 190-mile ride first appealed to Karen's athletic side because she was looking for a challenge. Riding the tour became a summer tradition for her and her friends on team FaCOWi because she loved the "community feel" of CowaLUNGa. But in 2002, her uncle was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and the ride took on an even larger meaning.

"All of a sudden, here's a ride I've been doing for fun, and now the mission behind the event hits home," Karen said.

Karen and her family were shocked when "Uncle Bud" was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that causes scarring of the lung tissue and makes it progressively harder to breathe. Benjamin Lieberman had never smoked, but Karen remembers that his lung capacity deteriorated so rapidly that soon he didn't even have the energy to get off the couch.

"We thought it couldn't get any worse, and then it did," Karen said.

The family received another blow when, two years later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Benjamin passed away in 2004. The following summer, Karen dedicated her ride in his memory and displayed his name on her fanny flag. Now, Karen still enjoys CowaLUNGa with her teammates, but keeps the event mission in mind, and uses the tour as a way to reflect on the ways she has been affected by lung disease. In addition to Uncle Bud, her stepmother passed away from lung cancer and a cousin has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

"There's a quieter, meditative peace to the ride now, and there are tears," Karen said. "Over the three days I often think of my family."

Karen is passionate about getting others to join the event, which offers one-, two- or three-day options to ride from Gurnee, Ill., to William's Bay, Whitewater or Hubertus, Wisc. She always felt motivated to raise funds for a nonprofit, and now that she is personally connected to Respiratory Health Association's mission, she has a renewed commitment.

"I support Respiratory Health Association because I know exactly where the money is going and I admire the educational programs they offer," Karen said. "They offer smoking cessation support and a course that helps children manage their asthma. Because of my family history and as a teacher whose students have asthma, knowing those programs are in place is important to me."

To learn more about CowaLUNGa, visit


Man to ride in CowaLUNGa Bike Tour to push his newfound health

Jim LoechelOn August 4, Jim Loechel will join more than 200 people at the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour start line at Gurnee Mills Mall. As he lines up for his 65-mile ride, he'll be thinking about a CowaLUNGa training ride he went on in 2010, the one that saved his life.

CowaLUNGa is hosted by Respiratory Health Association to raise funds and awareness for lung disease research and programs. Many people ride to honor loved ones affected by lung disease, but others, like Jim, participate for the challenge. Jim, of Westchester, rode in his first CowaLUNGa in 2009 because he was inspired to improve his health.

"My first two grandkids were born that year, and I made my mind up that I'd get in shape so I could stick around and see them grow up," Jim said.

After he completed his first CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, Jim felt in the best shape he'd been in for more than 20 years, so he signed up for a second ride. He continued to train and on one hot, humid Monday in May he hopped on his bike for a 30-mile ride.

"I was 25 miles into my ride when I started feeling really out-of-sorts, like my arms were really heavy," Jim said. He called his wife to pick him up. "We thought it was just dehydration, but when I couldn't even get out of bed to step in the shower, my wife called 911."

He went to the hospital and had a cardiac test, which showed two blockages in the main artery. Suddenly, his plans to join his family for pizza that night were forgotten. Instead, doctors told him, the ride had thankfully alerted them to a serious health issue, and he'd have to have triple-bypass surgery. He went into the surgery two days later.

After the surgery, Jim's doctor told him he was lucky because his heart was strong, in part due to his cycling, but he'd have to slowly build up his endurance to ride again. This August, he'll go on his longest bike ride since 2010.

"I am nowhere near where I was in 2009 as far as endurance," Jim said, "but finishing six hours of biking 65 miles gives me such a sense of accomplishment, I decided this year was the year I'd ride again."

To learn more about or to register for CowaLUNGa, visit


Naperville man remembers grandmother with CowaLUNGa ride

Jason with friendEvery August, Jason Pyrz, of Naperville, rides in the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour in memory of his grandmother, Mary Colin. During his childhood, his family lived only one mile from Mary in Bridgeview, and he spent a lot of time with her, the "foundation of his family."

"Most of my memories from growing up include my grandmother," Jason said. "She and my grandfather accompanied my family and me on our first trip to Disney World, and it was at her house that our extended family would always celebrate Christmas."

Jason looked forward to summers when he could play in her pool and enjoy their shared interests, such as sifting through her coin collection. Unfortunately, Mary was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1990, when Jason was 13. She was hospitalized after falling down the stairs, and a full-body scan revealed spots on her lungs. She had surgery, six weeks of radiation, then chemotherapy, hoping to beat the cancer. But, a few months later, tests showed it had spread to her bones and organs.

Mary moved to hospice care at home. Jason can still recall one of the last conversations he had with her in her hospital bed, which was in the middle of the living room where they'd held most of their family gatherings.

"She called my brother and me into the room and split up her coin collection between the two of us," he said. "That's when I realized she was leaving us."

Mary passed away one week after her 69th birthday.

Years later, Jason still thinks of her often and wants to keep other families from going through what his did. This August will be his third time riding in the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, hosted by Respiratory Health Association to raise awareness and funds for local lung disease research, advocacy and education, including smoking cessation programs and lung cancer research.

"When I rode in CowaLUNGa the first year, I fell in love with the organization, the people and the event," Jason said. "This is the most well-run ride I've ever participated in, and from start to finish, the route is beautiful."

On August 4, Jason will join more than 200 cyclists at the starting line in Gurnee, Ill., to help raise more than $200,000 for lung health. The 190-mile route runs from Northern Illinois to Southern Wisconsin, with scenic rest stops along the way. Jason's wife and 4-year-old daughter will also ride for several miles, and his father is volunteering along the route. He said he's happy he gets to share this event with his family, and honor family members who aren't with him anymore.

"I'd be hard-pressed to find a bike tour I enjoy more," Jason said. "The friendships you make and the good you're doing extends beyond CowaLUNGa."

If you're interested in riding in honor or in memory of a loved one affected by lung disease, register today. Until June 30, new riders who sign up for the two- or three-day ride will receive 50 percent off their registration fee. For more information or to register, go to


Skyline Plunge! Chicago May

Katie Barto
John Erickson and Ralph Marol
 Mike and Ronette Ksiazak Michael Murphy
Anne Rearnkham
Jack Skagerberg  Dave Thompson


Woman to rappel in memory of family affected by lung cancer

 Katie Barto
Katie Barto is rappelling in memory of her
grandfather, mother and grandmother.

When Katie Barto steps over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets on May 6, she'll be thinking about the three family members she's honoring by braving the height. Katie, of Lemont, is rappelling 27 stories of theWit Hotel during Skyline Plunge! Chicago in memory of her mother, grandfather and grandmother, who all passed away from lung disease.

Katie has participated in several lung health fundraisers, but said this one appealed to the adventurist in her. It also supports an association whose work she believes in. Skyline Plunge! Chicago is hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to raise funds for local lung disease research and educational programs.

"I think it's important that education about lung disease is out there and that people are able to get help when they are diagnosed," Katie said. "Whether a person needs more information or a better doctor, we need to support an organization that is doing so much."

Katie felt grateful for having a support system within her family when her mother, Louise Wegner, was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2006. Louise had gone to the emergency room to treat a migraine, but doctors found the cause of the pain was stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized, or spread, to her brain and lymph nodes. The diagnosis came soon after she quit smoking, and it changed every aspect of her and her family members' lives.

"Because of her medicine and cancer, my mother had small seizures so she couldn't drive anymore," Katie said. "She worked as a health clerk in our local school district, but she couldn't do that anymore, either. I think she felt as if she no longer had a purpose.

"My mom was someone who would wake up at 5 a.m. just to write lists for stuff she had to do that day or the next or even next Christmas," Katie continued. "What people don't realize is that once a person has cancer, sometimes it takes over their life. All my mother could do is talk about it, think about treatments, feel sick from treatments, etc."

For nearly two years, Katie and other family members helped her father, Gary Wegner, take care of his wife. In August of 2007, she began hospice care at home.

"My mother had to go through a lot of chemo and radiation," Katie said. "Once a person starts that, and the body is already trying to fight off the cancer, it makes it difficult for the person to function normally."

In Louise's case, the tumors in her brain made it hard for her to communicate with her children.

"My mom started behaving as someone with Alzheimer's would. She vaguely recognized people, and although she could talk, we didn't always understand what she was trying to say," Katie said. "While I still had these years with my mom and I wanted to be with her, she wasn't the same person, and it was really difficult. The cancer affected her personality, and I couldn't share my life with her."

Her mother passed away in October of 2008. Katie and her father were with her in the living room, where the family had shared countless holidays.

"My dad started crying immediately," Katie said. "He kept saying, ‘I did everything that I could.' He is such a patient and unselfish man, I told him, ‘You did more than anyone could expect you to do.' "

Since her mother's death, Katie has participated in lung health fundraisers in her memory, as well in memory of other family members. Her grandfather passed away in 1999 from emphysema, a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing due to lung damage (he was also a lung cancer survivor). Her grandmother passed away in 2012 from complications involving chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to lung damage and airflow blockage.

Their passing has driven Katie to become active in fundraising for others who may go through the same thing. For Skyline Plunge! Chicago, she has surpassed her personal goal of raising $1,000.

"I have many friends who donate to this cause, and I know it's because I'm not the only person who's been affected by lung disease," Katie said. "I'm doing the Plunge for my family, and all of their families, too."

To support Katie in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to


Former Northwestern classmates take the Plunge together

Erickson, MarolWhen John Erickson, a 1979 graduate of the J.L. Kellogg School of Management, stepped over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets, he wasn't just doing it for bragging rights. He was honoring three of his former classmates who have passed away.

John was among 90 people who participated in Skyline Plunge! Chicago on May 5 and 6. The event was hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to raise more than $120,000 for local lung disease research and programs. John participated twice before in memory of a family friend who passed away from lung cancer. This time, he rappelled 27 stories of theWit Hotel in memory of graduate school classmates Bob Philliotis, Tom Nachazel and Chris Miller, who have all passed away within the last several years.

"There were only 75 of us in the first four-quarter program at Kellogg that started in the summer of 1973," John said. "To lose three people since then seems like a surprisingly high number, and when they passed away it really affected my classmates and me. Skyline Plunge was a way to celebrate life, and to remember the guys who touched my life so positively."

When John arrived on campus, he and his classmates were entering Kellogg from different bachelor's degree programs. Becoming part of such an intimate group helped them form a tightknit support system that's stayed intact over the years.

"I certainly see more of my Kellogg classmates now than my undergraduate ones," John said. "Our experience that first summer really bonded us."

Over the years, the Class of 1979 has kept in touch with an annual basketball tournament, unofficial reunion parties and visits with their favorite professor, Matt Tuite, who retired in 1992. Now, they can add one more event to the list: Skyline Plunge! Chicago. John was joined by fellow graduate Ralph Marol, who rappelled in memory of his wife Maureen Gast-Marol, a 1978 Northwestern University graduate. The friends held a party after their rappel to share video of the event with friends, family and other former classmates.

"Thinking about Plunge! always brings a smile to my face," John said. "It combines a thrilling event with doing something good for someone else. Anyone can just write checks to organizations, but by doing something active like Skyline Plunge! Chicago, I get to join others and feel as if I'm actually making a difference."

Skyline Plunge! will return to Chicago on September 8 and 9, 2012. Register, donate or learn more at

Couple rappels for wife's father, diagnosed with lung cancer

KsiazakFor Ronette Ksiazak, the hardest part about participating in Skyline Plunge! Chicago wasn't rappelling 27 stories down the Wit Hotel. It was the fact that her father, Ronald Hutton, couldn't be there to cheer her on.

Ksiazak and her husband, Mike, both of Coal City, participated in Skyline Plunge! Chicago in honor of Ronald, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in August 2011. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the event will raise more than $120,000 for lung disease research and programs.

Ksiazak signed up for Skyline Plunge! in September, one month after she received the news about her father's diagnosis. When she got the phone call, she had just returned from the hospital after giving birth to her third child, Jaxon, and the news knocked the wind out of her.

"I was sitting there holding my three-day-old son and all I heard was, 'I'm sorry, it's cancer, it's inoperable, and your father doesn't have much time,' " Ksiazak said.

Hearing that doctors couldn't remove the tumor, which was the size of a pear, was hard for Ksiazak and her husband, who are both in the medical field.

"I thought 'with all of the technology we have these days, how can we not do something?' " Ksiazak said. "The hardest thing is to watch your dad go through something you can't take away or make better."

Ronald started radiation treatments in late August, and was in and out of the hospital for the next several months. In February, his health appeared to be improving and Ksiazak grew hopeful when he and his wife took a trip to visit several family members. Unfortunately, around Easter, weeks before Ronette's rappel, his oxygen levels dropped. His health began to deteriorate quickly. She struggled with seeing her dad suffer so much, and grappled with what she should tell her children.

"My oldest children, McKenzie and Caden, lived with him for four years, so Papa is their buddy," Ksiazak said. "I think about how Jaxon has only been here for as long as my dad has had cancer, for nine months. Will he ever get to know him?"

Ksiazak was able to push these worries to the back of her mind on May 6, and she finished the rappel all smiles-pumped with adrenaline and excitement over her accomplishment. She declared it was something she'd do again and again, not just for the adventure, but if this was a chance to find a cure for lung cancer, and help make her father better.

Despite how happy she was, she could not ignore the fact that her father was not there. His absence reminded her of why the rappel was so important in the first place, and of the grave reality of his current condition.

"Lately, his talk about the future has changed," Ksiazak said.

For the longest time, Ronald talked about how he couldn't wait to feel better and travel to Bowling Greene, KY, home to the National Corvette Museum, and purchase a Corvette.

"All we'd hear him talk about is 'my 'vette,' " Ksiazak said. "As of recently, he started saying why even spend the money for something he doesn't have the energy to drive. It's hard to hear him giving up on a dream he had for when he was better."

Ksiazak has raised more than half of her personal fundraising goal of $2,000. To support her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to


Evergreen Park man take the Plunge in memory of his mom

Michael MurphyOf her four sons, Maureen Murphy always worried the most about Michael's physical well-being. His love of heights and thrills landed him in the hospital several times as a child, and as he got older he sought bigger adventures.

So when he steps over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets as part of Skyline Plunge! Chicago on Sunday, May 6, Michael will be thinking of his mom. The event is hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to raise awareness and more than $100,000 for lung disease research and programs. Michael's mom passed away from lung cancer in August of 2008, and while she's not here to give 25-year-old Michael any words of warning before he rappels 27 stories, he knows she'd be proud of him.

In memory of his mom, Michael wants to make a difference by raising money for lung disease research. He set his personal fundraising goal for Skyline Plunge! Chicago at $2,000 - twice the minimum - and is already more than halfway to reaching it. He will be cheered on during his rappel by many of his donors, none of whom were surprised he chose to remember his mother in this way.

"It seemed like a no brainer, because this is the craziest event for lung disease research that I've ever heard of," Michael said. "I can just imagine my mom saying, ‘There has to be a safer way to raise money for Respiratory Health Association,' but she would still support the charity and me in whatever I did."

A lifelong resident of Evergreen Park, Maureen lived to serve others as a State Representative for the 36th district, the first woman to be Chairman of the Cook County Republican Party and the first suburban resident on the Cook County Board of Reviews. Michael, also of Evergreen Park, is often reminded of his mom's impact on her constituents when strangers approach him to say they remember and respect Maureen for what she did for the community.

Unfortunately, Maureen's political work was cut short when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in May of 2006. The news came as a shock to her and her family because she hadn't smoked for 25 years. Despite a grim diagnosis, it seemed as if Maureen could beat the odds.

"She was energetic, so we had a positive outlook despite what the doctors told us," Michael said.

Michael and his siblings began spending as much time as they could with their mom. His favorite memory is when they took a trip to one of their parents' favorite places, Maui, in January of 2008. They talked about what it'd be like if their mom was gone, but after seeing her dance at a luau, it seemed as if they were discussing something that wouldn't happen. Unfortunately, several months later, Maureen's health declined, and she passed away just over two years after her diagnosis.

Nearly four years later, her family still feels her absence every day.

"It's amazing that it takes a whole family to fill in for what one person did," Michael said. "Losing a parent has made me more responsible for myself and my decisions, but my mom prepared us and we're working together to fill the void left when she passed."

When his family gets together, Michael can always count on hearing a story or piece of advice involving his mom. And when he shares news about his accomplishments, it's inevitable someone is going to say, "Your mother would be proud of you." No doubt the same words are being shared now, a week before his rappel.

"Rappelling a hotel in downtown Chicago wouldn't be my mom's cup of tea," Michael said, "but she was always one to give back to the community, and I know she'd support this."

To also support Michael in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to


Mother, daughter pair to rappel in memory of father

NewnamsWhen Tracy Newnam was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer in 2009, his wife, Mary Newnam, was in disbelief. She'd lost her son, Joshua Newnam, less than one year earlier, and now seemed to have very little time left with her husband. The doctor only gave him two to four months to live.

"I thought if we did get a cancer diagnosis we'd still have a few years, so when I heard months, I couldn't wrap my brain around it," Mary said. "I was in denial."

Their surviving children, Kyle and Kyra Newnam, were also caught off guard by their father's diagnosis. Tracy had quit smoking 12 years earlier and no one had noticed any signs that he was sick until he fainted at work. Even after his doctors found the cancer, Tracy was well enough to go back to his job as vice president of product development by Danfoss in Loves Park. Kyra was hopeful for her father's recovery until his health deteriorated in February.

"That was my first time that cancer had affected me so closely," Kyra said. "Before, when I heard someone had cancer, I just thought the person could have surgery and go through chemotherapy and be able to deal with it. But, I saw how quickly cancer can take a person's health."

Within one week, Tracy went from finishing up work projects to being too weak to get out of bed. He passed away on February 23, 2010, at age 51. Within one year, the Newnam family had gone from five members to three. Mary and Kyra, both of Rockton, didn't know how to face their despair so they tried to take their minds off of it. They began challenging themselves physically.

"Cancer makes you feel so helpless, like there's nothing you can do," Mary said. "What we found you can do is take a stand to help others. We started participating in charity runs in memory of our loved ones and to raise funds for organizations close to our heart."

Races included the Hoover Dam Turkey Trot and the Chicago Police Memorial Run. Recently, the mother-daughter pair began seeking new challenges. An advertisement for stepping over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets caught their eye. They signed up for Skyline Plunge! Chicago and will rappel 27 stories of theWit Hotel on May 5. The event is hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to raise funds and awareness for local lung disease research and programs. The two wanted to participate because of everything they witnessed with Tracy and Mary's Aunt Carol, who also smoked and passed away from lung cancer in 1993.

"We're doing this because more research is needed for lung disease so we can have a better understanding of what we're trying to fight," Kyra said. "More awareness about lung cancer and its causes is also needed. Unless it happens to you, it's hard to understand how fast cancer works or how harmful cigarettes are."

Recently, Mary and Kyra visited theWit Hotel and looked up at the building they will rappel in less than one month. The irony of the event hit Mary. Her husband was terrified of heights, and if he were here he'd certainly try to talk them out of it. The hurt from Tracy's absence reminded Mary and Kyra of why they signed up in the first place.

"I like that I can challenge cancer in this way," Mary said. "Losing someone to the disease is hard, it's ripped our family apart, but we're standing up for those who can't. We're doing something out of our comfort zone, but it's worth it if it brings attention to the cause."

To support Mary and Kyra in their fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to or


Woman wants to cross rappelling for lung health off her list

Anne RearnkhamWhen Anne Rearnkham experienced complications from a blood transfusion in January, her blood oxygen levels dipped so low that even speaking in a whisper left her exhausted. Hypoxia, the name of the condition, deprived her of the oxygen she needed to care for herself, and although she felt this way for just one week, the feeling of breathlessness and being confined to the couch frightened her.

"I couldn't do anything strenuous, and I was afraid I was going to die," Anne said. "When I finally got my health back, it gave me more of an incentive to go out and do the things I wanted to do."

Anne began completing a list of things she's always wanted to accomplish but hasn't yet. In May, the Round Lake resident will be able to cross one item off of that list: rappelling 27 stories down theWit Hotel in downtown Chicago.

She is participating in Skyline Plunge! Chicago on May 6. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the event raises funds and awareness for local lung disease research, advocacy and education. Anne is rappelling to face a fear of stepping over the edge 278 feet above State Street and to support other people who know what it's like to be short of breath.

One person she is honoring with her rappel is the mother of her good friend Joyce Latz, who lived with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for several years. COPD is a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage and damage to the lungs.

"What I was experiencing sounded very similar to my her COPD, and I can't imagine what it'd be like to have that disease for a long time, day in and day out," Anne said.

Anne wants to build awareness for COPD and other lung diseases by fundraising for Respiratory Health Association. She also hopes that when spectators see her descending the side of a building, it will spark something in them to reach a goal they may have.

"I know I would be inspired if I saw someone doing this, so I want to inspire someone else," Anne said. "I want to inspire them to quit smoking, or try something new or do something they've always wanted. I want them to ‘take the plunge,' no pun intended."

To support Anne in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to


Chicago native to rappel 27 stories in memory of Mom

Jack SkagerbergIn May, Jack Skagerberg will be cheered on by family and friends as he steps over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets. His high school classmates, father, sons and sister will watch as he rappels 27 stories of theWit Hotel in Chicago in memory of his mother, Joan Skagerberg, who passed away from lung cancer in 2005.

Jack is participating in Skyline Plunge! Chicago, an event hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to raise funds and awareness for local lung disease programs. This won't be the first time the Skagerberg family has teamed up with Respiratory Health Association. After Joan passed, they vowed to keep her charitable nature alive.

"My family and I like being involved in events that bring us closer to other families who were also affected by lung disease," Jack said. "We also participate in lung health fundraisers for people who have not been affected by it yet, but may be one day. We feel like we did everything we could for Mom, so now the fight continues for others."

Joan was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in October of 2004. The news came as a surprise because she had not smoked for decades and was conscious of her health, often eating healthy, organic meals.

"She was the foundation of our family, and the thought of losing her scared us more than anything," Jack said. "There were lots of prayers and some resentment that this was affecting her."

Joan, however, didn't let the lung cancer change her selfless attitude. Despite the grave diagnosis, aggressive chemotherapy and quick decline in her health, she continued to put others first. Even when her doctor came in one day looking grim, asking how she was feeling, Joan responded, "Don't worry about me. What about you? You look tired; you should really try to get some more rest." Jack's sister, Kathy Skagerberg, of Chicago, said she only saw her cry once.

"She cried when she told me she worried about how my dad would get along," Kathy said. "They were married for more than 50 years, and they still took care of each other so lovingly. I promised her I'd be with him every day at 5 p.m. so we could eat dinner together, just as they'd done for years."

Joan passed away March 19, 2005, just five months after being diagnosed. It was then that her family fully understood just how many lives she had impacted outside of theirs. She was a substance abuse counselor at Ingalls Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Hospital, and at her funeral many of her former patients wanted to share how grateful they were for Joan.

"So many people came up to us and were unashamed to say, ‘I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for your mother. How can I help you?' " Kathy said. "We wanted to do something in my mother's memory, so we realized they really could do something for us, and help others who are facing lung disease."

Since Joan's passing, the Skagerberg family has joined with Respiratory Health Association to generate more awareness for women's lung health issues through hosting three "Inspiration" silent auction fundraisers (named to honor Joan's life impact on so many others), participating in advocacy efforts and volunteering at the association's events.

"My mother truly helped save so many lives, and when hers was ending, she stayed so strong; she never complained," Jack said.

The family's "Inspiration" events raised nearly $60,000 for Respiratory Health Association's local lung disease research and programs. The Skagerberg family wants to continue their fundraising efforts through Skyline Plunge! Chicago, and Jack hopes to surpass his personal fundraising goal of $5,000. He and Kathy explained that with every person they meet who has also been affected by lung disease, they are reminded their work for women's lung health is not done.

"We're still fighting because there's got to be an end to this," Kathy said. "We're fighting to find the cures and answers that are needed for other women facing lung cancer, and to bring awareness to the cause."

To support Jack in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to


Elmhurst man will honor his uncle during Skyline Plunge! Chicago

Dave ThompsonDave Thompson of Elmhurst will step over the edge 278 feet above State and Lake Streets in downtown Chicago during Skyline Plunge! Chicago this May. A self-proclaimed "adventurist," Dave will rappel theWit Hotel for an adrenaline rush and to support people living with lung disease.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Skyline Plunge! Chicago raises funds and awareness for local lung disease research, advocacy and education. More than 75 people will participate in the event Sunday, May 6, and many have been affected by lung disease - including Dave. The 28-year-old is rappelling in memory of his uncle, Phil Naas, who passed away from lung cancer in June 2011.

Phil was diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer in 2007, and the diagnosis came as a shock to his family because he'd quit smoking 20 years earlier. Dave said the news made him aware of how many other family members or friends could benefit from increased knowledge about the health impacts of smoking.

"A lot of people who I know and love smoke or have smoked, so I want to rappel to raise money for lung disease research," Dave said. "I'm excited to see how much I can bring in for the association and to help people who have also been affected by lung disease."

Dave's fundraising goal is $1,500 and he is more than halfway to reaching that goal. In all, the event will raise $100,000 for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Funds raised will support lung disease research and programs for people living with lung cancer, COPD, asthma or other lung diseases.

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

Asthma Awareness Month

Marsha Brooks Ifeoma Nkemdi


 Brooke gets renewed health through asthma management

BrooksWhen Marsha Brooks's daughter, Brooke, was 4, she developed a cough that kept her up all night, left her gasping for air, and sometimes lasted for two weeks at a time. Marsha tried giving Brooke cough syrup, but even if it seemed as if she was getting better, the cough would return.

Marsha took Brooke to several doctors hoping to find out what was making her daughter sick. It wasn't until the third doctor took chest X-rays that she learned Brooke had asthma. Brooke started taking liquid steroids and a metered dose inhaler once a day, but she still couldn't run around without needing to sit down to catch her breath.

"I felt really alone," Marsha said. "We'd never had asthma in our family before, and I think the doctor assumed I knew how to use an inhaler and what to do with the medicines, but I didn't."

Luckily, a neighborhood friend, Pam Jenkins, offered to help Marsha manage Brooke's asthma when she noticed Brooke struggling to breathe on a play date. Pam's experience with her son, Darrien, was similar to Marsha's. Pam's struggle to get Darrien diagnosed and receive the proper medication inspired her to leave her nursing program and become a respiratory therapist. She has also been trained by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to teach Asthma Management, a free one-hour program that teaches parents like Marsha how to administer medication, recognize warning signs and remove asthma triggers from their homes.

Marsha said that by working with Pam, she was able to turn her daughter's health around. Marsha had been administering Brooke's medicine through her inhaler wrong, so Pam showed her how to use her spacer correctly. She taught her about the differences between normal airways and restricted airways, and suggested Marsha get a home nebulizer so Brooke wouldn't have to receive breathing treatments in the emergency room.

"I am so grateful to Pam and what she taught me," Marsha said. "She broke down everything in layman's terms."

Equipped with a new understanding of her daughter's asthma, Marsha was able to better communicate her questions and concerns to Brooke's doctor.

"I really felt like when I came in prepared, the doctor took me more seriously," Marsha said. "He could tell I had educated myself on my daughter's asthma and wanted to learn more."

Brooke, who's now 6, takes her inhaler twice a day and can now play with her friends without feeling out of breath. Her newfound health makes her and Marsha happier every day.

"I used to feel scared when I watched my daughter be sick so many days in a row, and now that we got her asthma managed, I feel relieved," Marsha said. "Brooke will say, ‘Mommy, I don't get sick like I used to! Watch, I can run!"


Mother and son work together to learn about asthma management

When Shiloh Washington was 2 years old, a respiratory problem caused him to gasp for air so intensely that his ribs were showing. His mother, Ifeoma Nkemdi, rushed him to the emergency room, where doctors said he could have died if she'd waited any longer. She was terrified that it might happen again, and unfortunately, it did.

For the next six years, Shiloh was in and out of the hospital because of his breathing problems. He missed weeks of school and Ifeoma had to take time off of work to care for him. This continued until he was 8, when a doctor finally diagnosed him with asthma. The diagnosis gave Ifeoma hope that she and Shiloh could learn enough to prevent future trips to the ER.

"When your child is diagnosed with asthma, you want to make sure you're equipped with all of the right medications and knowledge about how to treat it," Ifeoma said. "We saw an allergist so we could learn what might trigger an asthma attack, and we found a pediatrician who we felt comfortable with to help us find the right medicines for Shiloh."

They also worked with their doctor to create an asthma action plan, a written document that outlines what Shiloh should do when he starts to feel his warning signs of an asthma attack. By educating themselves on Shiloh's asthma signs and symptoms, his school absences were cut back from 25 days a year to only about six this year.

For Ifeoma, working with Shiloh to manage his asthma was easy compared to overcoming the resistance she faced from some family members. They thought she was overreacting by taking Shiloh to see different doctors and that it was a waste of money to try so many different medicines.

"A lot of people told me Shiloh was just exaggerating his breathing problems, or that since he was a boy, he should be strong about it," Ifeoma said. "They didn't realize asthma is a chronic condition, and that if we didn't treat it properly, it could be life threatening."

Thankfully, over time, Ifeoma's family has accepted the fact that Shiloh needs their help just as much as he needs his mother's. Today, twelve-year-old Shiloh has a great support network within his family.

Shiloh's school has also been a key support. For instance, the school nurse has a copy of his asthma action plan, and Shiloh has access to his asthma medications while he's at school. This means Ifeoma feels secure about Shiloh's safety while he's at school, but she knows not all parents are that lucky. As a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, Ifeoma says the problem is twofold: many of her colleagues aren't knowledgeable about how to care for students with asthma, and students lack education about their own asthma.

Recently, Ifeoma attended an Asthma Management training, a free one-hour course taught by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to empower teachers, parents and caregivers to prevent and/or respond to an asthma emergency. Ifeoma believes trainings like this can really make a difference in her community.

"I know from experience that more communities need this education, and it shouldn't take a student's asthma emergency to open people's eyes to that," Ifeoma said. "Spreading knowledge about asthma will save children's lives."


Dr. Anne Marie Singh connects clinical work with asthma research

Dr. SinghDr. Anne Marie Singh splits her week between seeing patients at Children's Memorial Hospital and working on research projects at Northwestern University. And though she spends the majority of her week in the lab looking for better treatments and cures for asthma and allergies, many of her most fulfilling experiences come from her one day a week seeing patients.

"The problem with asthma and allergies is that they're often gradual," she said. "Children get a cough here and there or a runny nose, but it gets worse over time. Parents start to buy in to this 'new normal' for their child, and start pulling them out of activities when they're coughing or wheezing. A large part of my job is getting parents to understand that doesn't have to be the norm for their kids; they should be able to do anything they want to do."

She helps parents understand how to help their children manage asthma and allergies by creating a treatment plan that ensures children are not limited by asthma.

"The most important lesson is that asthma never has to hold you back," she said. "Whether you have asthma or not, you should be able to do everything that you want to do. And as an allergist who treats asthma, that's our goal: to get you as the patient to do everything you want to do."

In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Singh is currently working on a research project funded by Respiratory Health Association through the Blowitz-Ridgeway Foundation.

Many children who will eventually develop asthma have a common chain of events: they develop eczema at a young age, then food sensitives, then allergies and eventually asthma. Dr. Singh is looking for predictors for asthma in children with those early warning signs in order to determine what makes some eventually develop asthma while others don't.

She has enrolled about 80 participants and is finding connections between regulatory T-cells, which control immune responses and staphylococcus aureus. Her conclusions will inform other researchers to study further and eventually develop methods of preventing asthma.

Though her research provides hope for future projects and may eventually help identify preventions and treatments, Dr. Singh takes joy in helping her patients realize how finding the right treatment plan can change their lives.

"It's so gratifying when a child has a treatment plan that works and can run around and pay without coughing or wheezing. They get to come in to see me saying, 'I have my life back! I have my life back!' "

Hustle Up the Hancock

Jayne Barnard & Laura Tucker
Lea Bell
Ann BenderBarbara Binik & Nancy Chertok 
Ann Covode Gary Deitelhoff
 Meghan DuermitLisa Eckert 
Tara Helverson Alicia High
Steve KovarJamie Miller
Gamilah Pierre Heidi Ruppel
STEM IT UPJohn Whalen


Family hustling up the Hancock in honor of John Tucker

The TuckersAsk anyone what John Tucker was like, and you'd get one resounding answer: passionate. To his partners at the law firm Jenner and Block, he was a go-getter who always wanted to win. To his children, he was a civil rights activist committed to the underdog. And to his wife, Jayne Barnard, he was an optimistic author who retired and moved with her to rural Virginia. There, they enjoyed the outdoors and traveling until he passed away from lung cancer in the fall of 2010.

John, an Evanston native, was a lawyer at Jenner and Block for 27 years. He defended everyone from mobsters to white collar executives and represented many notable clients throughout his career, including the University of Illinois, the Evanston School Board, former Congressman Abner Mikva, former Cook County Assessor Tom Hynes and Richard M. Daley, who at the time was Cook County state's attorney. One of John's most significant court cases was U.S. Supreme Court case Elrod v. Burns, which struck down Chicago's patronage system.

His daughter, Laura Tucker of Evanston, fondly remembers family trips to watch her father argue in cases in the Supreme Court or to participate in anti-war demonstrations.

"My dad was committed to recognizing civil rights for everyone and felt it was our responsibility to make sure everyone has an equal playing field," Laura said. He set that example at his firm by being heavily involved its pro bono criminal defense work.

It was at the firm that John met his future wife. He and Jayne shared a secretary, and Jayne admired John's work.

"He was one of the most creative lawyers ever," Jayne said. "He was always coming up with theories that no one else had thought of."

They married in 1983, and while they had reasons to stay in Chicago - their careers and their families - the couple followed their dream and retired to a secluded area of Virginia. Jayne became a college professor and John spent much of his time outdoors. Thanks to his newfound tranquility, he was able to quit smoking, something he could never do under the stress of his work life in Chicago.

"John had always harbored a desire to decompress and he was able to do that in Virginia," Jayne said. "There, I had a terrific teaching job and he was able to write two books and numerous articles and op ed pieces for newspapers. He also enjoyed following politics, going to races and learning to cook."

John's books, May God Have Mercy and Trial and Error: The Education of a Courtroom Lawyer, are still used in law classrooms today. He was beginning work on a book about President Barack Obama in the spring of 2010, when recurring respiratory issues prompted him to see a doctor. A chest X-ray revealed that he had stage 3 lung cancer.

"John hadn't smoked for 20 years," Jayne said. "He had always been the most optimistic person I knew, but he was crushed by the diagnosis."

John had his first surgery in May of 2010 at the University of Virginia. Doctors removed some lymph nodes and he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He had surgery again that September, but got a severe infection afterward. He passed away 10 days later.

In December of 2010, Jenner and Block held a memorial service for John in Chicago. At the service, Jayne was approached by one of her and John's former colleagues. He told her about Jenner's annual team for Hustle Up the Hancock and asked if the team could dedicate their 2011 climb to John. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the stair climb raises $1 million annually to raise funds for local lung disease education, research and programs. Jayne thought John would be honored by the effort and joined the team herself.

More colleagues and family members have joined the team this year, and it now includes three generations of Tuckers.

"John absolutely loved Chicago, Jenner and Block and his family," Jayne said. "To have asked him to imagine that his colleagues and family would be coming together in such a way - and with so many generations - he'd be astonished and proud."

Laura participated in the stair climb for the first time last year to honor her father and reconnect with some of his former colleagues.

"Last year, everyone wore shirts with my dad's name on them, so it was impossible not to think of him the whole time as we climbed the stairs in John Hancock Center," she said.

Jayne said Hustle has become easier the second time around. Physically, her training makes it possible for her to face this year's climb feeling accomplished and prepared. Emotionally, friends and family help her reflect on the experiences she and John shared in different stages in their lives. Hustle is one way for Jayne and them to honor John.

"John was just such an unforgettable guy," Jayne said. "Remembering him in so many ways is part of the grieving process, but also such a pleasure."

The "Jenner Not Ready for Climb Time Players" is consistently a top fundraising team. This year, its members have raised more than $8,000 toward their goal of $10,000. To support the team in their fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Mother to climb 94 stories in honor of her daughter

bellWhen Lea Bell took her 6-month-old daughter, Emily, to the doctor for what she thought was a common cold, she was jolted when the doctor put a stethoscope to Emily’s chest and said she could hear the little girl struggling for air.

Since then, Emily has been living with asthma. For the first four years, when the asthma was bad, Lea needed to learn how to help her daughter use a nebulizer to administer medication in the form of a mist into her lungs. Like most parents, Lea did not know much about asthma before Emily was diagnosed.

“I felt so guilty, asking the doctor, ‘She’ll outgrow it, right?’” Lea said. “The doctor explained that people don’t grow out of asthma, but it can become more manageable.”

Now that Emily is 9, she and Lea have learned to recognize Emily’s signs and symptoms of an asthma attack. But it wasn’t always that apparent. Every winter until Emily was 6, her asthma attack symptoms were so subtle that by the time Lea recognized she was having trouble breathing, Emily needed to be rushed to the hospital.

Luckily, it’s been more than a year since Emily has used a nebulizer. She plays sports year round and still carries her inhaler, though she rarely needs it. Even though Lea feels as if Emily’s asthma is under control, she remembers a time when it played a scary role her and her daughter’s lives. She wants to help families who might be experiencing that, so she has pledged to climb 94-floors in Hustle Up the Hancock.

Hustle Up the Hancock is a stair climb in the John Hancock Center on February 26 hosted
by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. It raises more than $1 million every year for local lung health research and programs. Lea said she hopes to raise funds to benefit other families affected by asthma.

“I’m fortunate that Emily’s asthma has become more manageable and we can receive the care she needs,” Lea said. “For all the families who do not have access to good care, I want to raise money so that they can have the education and support to help their kids manage their asthma.”

To support Lea in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit


Geneva woman remembering father through stair climb

bellWhen Ann Bender’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer on his birthday one year ago, all she felt was anger. She was mad that the cancer had gone undetected for too long to be treated and infuriated that cigarettes – the source of her father’s lung cancer – were still being sold. 

Ann’s father Vincent Ottaviano had been a smoker since a young age. While she had always known about the dangers of his smoking, she wasn’t prepared to watch him suffer from stage IV lung cancer for 10 months. He was first confined to a wheelchair and then required hospice care, and Ann and her family took turns sitting with him every day.

“This was a man who had taken care of his family for years, and now he needed us to care for him,” Ann said. “We had to stay strong for him.”

Ann’s father had a goal in mind to make it to his 50th wedding anniversary. He was able to celebrate it with his wife this past September, but then his health deteriorated quickly. In addition to the cancer he had emphysema, and it became hard for him to breathe without an oxygen tank. He passed away at 71 in late October.

Ann credits her good friend Julie Kratochvil for helping her cope as she watched her father struggle with lung cancer. It was Julie who suggested Ann find a way to channel her anger to do some good. The two women participated in several lung health fundraisers, and the Geneva residents will participate in Hustle Up the Hancock on February 26. The 94-story climb is hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to raise more than $1 million for local lung disease research and programs.

As a Lung Health Champion, Ann has committed to raising $1,000. She said if nothing else, she’d like to see her money go toward something very simple: keeping young people from smoking.

“My father smoked since he was young, but back then it was different times and smoking was accepted,” Ann said. “I can’t believe that even now, kids still think smoking is cool despite all of the tools and knowledge we have about the dangers. We have to keep educating them and to do that we have to keep fundraising.” 

To help people quit smoking and to prevent young people from starting, Respiratory Health Association offers a number of free resources and programs. Through the Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project, the organization created Operation Storefront, an interactive curriculum that educates youth about tobacco advertising and encourages them to consider the negative impacts of tobacco use on their friends and family.

To support Ann in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Evanston mom climbing to keep kids tobacco-free

covodeAnn Covode of Evanston is participating in Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-floor stair climb up the John Hancock Center. Hosted by and benefitting Respiratory Health Association, the event aims to raise more than $1 million for lung health research, advocacy and education in Chicagoland.

Ann is climbing in memory of family and friends who have passed away from lung disease, especially her great uncle. He had emphysema and died when Ann was a young girl. Seeing his health deteriorate is something Ann will never forget.

“It was very striking to me when I was a child,” Ann said. “I thought about how scary it would be not to be able to breath, and when I was 12 I vowed I’d never smoke.”

It’s a choice Ann makes sure to share with her three daughters. They discuss saying no and the health risks of smoking, but Ann is discouraged that her message has to compete with tobacco advertisements targeting a young demographic.

“It bothers me that tobacco companies are still promoting their products to a young crowd and trying to make it look cool,” Ann said. “We really need tobacco prevention programs to give children all of the education they can have.”

She hopes her climb will raise money to support Respiratory Health Association’s many free resources and programs to help people quit smoking and to prevent young people from starting. Through the Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project, the organization created Operation Storefront, an interactive curriculum that educates youth about tobacco advertising and encourages them to consider the negative impacts of tobacco use on their friends and family. CTPP has also held several youth contests encouraging young adults to draw or write about why they choose to be tobacco free. 

To support Ann in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Climbers to honor child survivor of the Holocaust

Joan MaasLongtime Chicago resident Joan Maas made a lasting impact in her community. For years, Joan - a child survivor of the Holocaust - spoke to school-age children in the greater Chicago area about tolerance and the danger of oppression. She worked with her daughter Nancy Chertok to develop her memoir, Oma's Story, and her legacy lives on despite her passing in May of 2010 from lung cancer and COPD.

Nancy, of Oak Park, said she draws upon her mother's example every day. Joan overcame adversity by marching with Rev. Martin Luther King. She proved it's never too late to follow a passion when she attended college while raising a family. She reinvented her professional life, won a Rookie of the Year award for sales in real estate and became the first woman president of the Chicago Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management. When she vowed to fight through her COPD and lung cancer, she was the face of perseverance. In honor of her mother, Nancy will be climbing 52 floors of the John Hancock Center February 26 for lung health.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the event will raise more than $1 million for lung disease research, advocacy and education. The climb will provide Nancy and Joan's friend, Barbara Binik, the chance to join more than 4,000 participants, most of whom are affected by lung disease. "We'll have the opportunity to get the message out about lung health and remind people of the importance of enduring hardships," Nancy said.

Before Nancy's mother developed lung cancer, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2000. COPD is a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to lung damage and airflow blockage. Because airways in the lungs are blocked, normal breathing takes extra effort. Many people living with COPD find it hard to do everyday tasks such as walking to their mailbox, but Nancy said that wasn't going to stop her mom.

"Even if it took her a couple of minutes to walk across a room, she was just going to do it slowly," Nancy said. "She was independent and she kept going no matter what."

During a routine checkup with her pulmonary specialist in 2006, Joan was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer, but she continued to speak at schools and work as a realtor when she could. She volunteered with President Obama's campaign and vowed to stay alive to see him become president. Her determined attitude stuck with her friend and former coworker Barbara.

"Joan was ahead of her time and always rose to the occasion," Barbara said. "I learned so much from her life stories, both personally and professionally."

Joan lived her life teaching others to overcome adversity, and Nancy and Barbara hope their climb will do that as well. They want to honor Joan's legacy in a way that will have a positive impact on the future of lung disease research and education.

"There are many mysteries to lung cancer and the science of figuring out a cure," Nancy said. "I want to raise money for lung disease education and smoking cessation programs to help prevent people from getting lung cancer in the first place."

To support Nancy in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Man to climb 52 floors in skyscraper his father helped build

gary deitelhoffWhen Gary Deitelhoff climbs 52 floors of the John Hancock Center this weekend, he may for a moment feel as if it's 1968 and he's 16 again, being led by his father to the roof of the then partly-constructed skyscraper.

When Gary was a teenager, his father, Bob Deitelhoff, worked for R.B. Hayward Co. in Schiller Park and was the foreman on their heating and ventilation project in the John Hancock Center. Three years into the center's construction and one year away from its completion, he brought his son, his daughter, Judy Bush, his son-in-law, Floyd Bush, and family friend, Perry Deutsch, from their hometown of Elmhurst to downtown Chicago to treat them to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The group of five traveled to the top of the 100-story building by taking two different elevators and then walking the last few floors, until they reached a door that opened onto the roof.

"I was up there walking across two-by-fours and pieces of plywood," Gary said. "There were no guardrails or fences, so my friend, Perry, and I hung over the edge spitting and trying to hit the Playboy Building," which at the time was right next door.

"My mom knew my dad was taking us to the top of the John Hancock Center, but I'm sure she didn't actually know what that entailed," he added.

After taking several photos in their hardhats, the group began the long descent.

"My dad made us walk down the last 50 floors and our legs felt like Jell-o," Gary said. "Dad took the stairs everyday countless times, so while we were panting, he was in great shape."

In hopes of avoiding that legs numb feeling again, Gary has been training on a StairMaster in preparation for the 15th annual Hustle Up the Hancock on Sunday, February 26. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, more than 4,000 people will climb 94 or 52 floors of the John Hancock Center to raise $1.1 million for local lung disease research and programs.

"Although I have been fortunate to not have had any lung disease in my family, I thought this would be a fun thing to do in the building my dad helped build," Gary said. "As a kid, it was always a real thrill to come into the city and see the John Hancock Center. I can remember the Chicago skyline from then, when it was the tallest building in Chicago and there was no Willis Tower or Trump Tower."

Gary still loves gazing up at the John Hancock Center on his drive into the city from his home in Arlington Heights. His dad's hand in its completion is something he'll never forget, and something he doesn't let others forget either.

"Every time we have a friend come into town I take them to Michigan Avenue and tell them the story," Gary said. "I'm sure they're probably all sick of it by now, but it's something I'm still proud of."

To support Gary in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to



Aurora teacher to climb in honor of her mother

meghan duermitFour years ago, after joining a local gym, Meghan Duermit was excited to see her healthy eating and new workout routine reflect on the scale. But when her mother, Mary Ellen Duermit, was diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer in November of 2007, Meghan altered her fitness routine and nutritional meals to care for her. As Mary Ellen's health declined, Meghan focused more on her and her family then herself.

“It was so hard to take care of a loved one who was so sick,” Meghan said. “I never imagined the difficult care that was needed for someone who was only 67 years old. I started gaining weight from stress eating.”

After Meghan’s mother went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, a scan came back showing her lungs were clear. Her family was relieved until November 2008, when Mary Ellen started feeling different symptoms. The doctors found that the cancer had spread to her brain, and warned everyone that this time it would probably not be curable.

“I remember on December 31, 2008, my mom asked the doctor how much time she had left and she answered six weeks or less,” Meghan said. “I kept hearing that over and over, but I was still shocked when she died one week later.  I struggle with her being gone and miss her every day.”

 After her mom passed away in January 2009, Meghan slowly began to get back into her workout routine and track what she ate. She knew her mom would want her to feel and look her best, so she challenged herself with workouts four to five times a week. This past summer, after completing 100 floors on the Stairmaster, she decided to try climbing stairs outside of the gym. Posting her goal on Facebook led her to the perfect workout and fundraising goal.

“I posted, ‘Just climbed on the Stairmaster, now I need a building!’ ” Meghan said. “A friend suggested I look up Hustle Up the Hancock, and when I did, the event hit home for me.”

The 94-story stair climb is hosted by the Respiratory Health Association raises more than $1 million for lung disease research, advocacy and education in Chicagoland. Meghan signed up for the climb, which will be held on February 26, in memory of her mother. She is also climbing to honor a fellow teacher and close friend at Indian Prairie School District 204 and all of her students who suffer from asthma and other respiratory conditions.  

“I’m climbing in hopes that everyone will become more aware of what’s causing lung diseases, whether it’s pollution, cigarettes or secondhand smoke,” Meghan said.

Now that she’s lost 25 pounds and climbed 191 floors in a recent Stairmaster workout, Meghan can’t wait to complete Hustle Up the Hancock. She’s not just looking forward to reaching her own fitness goal, but also excited by the prospect of reaching out to others.  

“My mother would always cheer me on with a ‘way to go,’ ” Meghan said. “This is something for me to do to make her proud, and to help people become more conscious of lung disease.”

To learn more or register for Hustle, visit To support Meghan in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Family comes together to remember Philip Eckert

Lisa EckertLisa Eckert, of Arlington Heights, climbed 94 floors of John Hancock Center Sunday, February 26, with a team of six of her relatives. Her siblings, nieces and nephews all took part in the stair climb fundraiser to “hustle for Dad.”

Lisa’s father, Philip Eckert, passed away from lung cancer on New Year’s Eve of 2009. Philip’s four-year battle with lung cancer began when he visited a doctor because he had a heavy cough, and as a former smoker, he was worried what it may be. He was diagnosed with stage 2 non-small cell cancer and had surgery to remove a lobe from his lung. He began chemotherapy treatments and was soon declared cancer-free.

“We got comfortable thinking his cancer was gone, and I think that was a mistake we made,” Lisa said.

His cough returned and tests showed the cancer had progressed to stage 4. He was in relatively good health throughout his battle with cancer, but passed away suddenly just hours after a visit from his children on New Year’s Eve.

“My dad was so positive that unless you were close to him, you wouldn’t have even known he had cancer,” Lisa said. “The day before he passed away, he was making sales calls for work from his hospital bed. He was always doing something, and he wasn’t going to let cancer change him.”

Lisa and her seven siblings miss their father, a former Elk Grove resident, every day. They like to exchange stories about the multiple trips they took to visit their parents, Philip and Loretta, at their cabin in Wisconsin and their house in Arizona. Lisa tries to emulate her father in everything she does, and signed up for her first Hustle Up the Hancock to honor him.

Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the event caught Lisa’s eye because of her connection to lung cancer. She joined more than 4,000 other participants in climbing 52 or 94 floors to raise $1.1 million to fund local lung disease education, research and programs.

Lisa said the climb was difficult, but she pushed herself to the top by thinking about her dad.

“My dad always had such a positive attitude, and encouraged and supported us kids in everything we did,” Lisa said. “I couldn’t wait to remember him that day with people whose lives he also touched.”

To support Lisa in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Lockton employee climbing in memory of her grandfather

Tara HelversonOn February 26, 30 coworkers from Lockton will climb 94 stairs of the John Hancock Center as part of Hustle Up the Hancock.

Hosted by the Respiratory Health Association, the annual event raises $1 million to support local lung disease research, advocacy and education. Climber Tara Helverson looks forward to the climb each year for the opportunity to spend time with her colleagues and to honor her grandfather, who passed away from pulmonary fibrosis in the summer of 2009.

Pulmonary fibrosis was something Tara hadn't given thought to until her grandfather Ralph Cooke was diagnosed with it. It is a fatal disease in which a person's lung tissue scars or thickens, gradually making it harder to breathe. The cause of the disease is unknown.

"It's usually a slow and painful disease," Tara said. "I couldn't believe it was happening to my grandfather, who was a pastor and spent his whole life giving back to others and helping them through their time of need."

Since her grandfather lived in Nebraska, Tara, a Chicago resident, wasn't able to visit him as soon as she heard the diagnosis. She prayed for him every day and was planning a trip out to see him, but he passed away before she was able to travel. He died a few months after his diagnosis on August 20, 2009.

"I thought we'd have more time," Tara said. "He will forever be missed. Good men like my grandfather don't come along very often."

After her grandfather's passing, Tara and her family shared their memories of him: his contagious laugh, the smile he always wore, and that he made sure they knew he loved them, despite being miles apart. Even though he had 20 grandchildren, his attention made each child feel special in his eyes, and they all wanted to grow up and be like their grandfather: kind and giving.

Tara found one way to follow in his footsteps with Hustle Up the Hancock, and is looking forward to her third climb. She's learned different techniques to keep a steady pace up the stairs and is looking forward to seeing her and her teammates' hard work pay off.

"It's something we talk about year-round at work," Tara said. "Every year I'm excited and happy to be there. This is something I do for my grandpa and to enjoy time outside of the office with my coworkers."

To support Tara in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Woman participating in stair climb for her mom

Alicia HighAlicia High often sits down at her kitchen table to flip through her copy of "Ginny's Kitchen: A Collection of Family Recipes and Personal Favorites." She smiles as she leafs through the more than 700 recipes that conjure up memories of family holiday parties and neighbors' favorite dishes.

The cookbook was compiled by her mother and published just one week before she passed away from a rare form of lung cancer. To Alicia, the book isn't just a collection of meals from her childhood, but also the last project she helped Virginia "Ginny" Larson accomplish before her passing in September of 2009.

Ginny was 63 when doctors diagnosed her with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. At the time, she and husband Lyle were living in their hometown of St. Charles and Alicia had just moved to nearby Bloomington. Ginny felt healthy and happy, so she initially dismissed her symptoms - weight loss and a cough - as the result of spreading herself too thin. However, as the symptoms grew more severe, she went to a doctor and found fluid in her lungs.

The life expectancy for someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is only four to 18 months, so Ginny quickly began flying to Boston for treatments from top doctors. Alicia accompanied her on most trips, aware that they were fighting a hard battle. Within one year of her diagnosis and one day after her 64th birthday, Ginny passed away.

"It's such an aggressive cancer that even though she had the best care, it still took her life," Alicia said. "I am just grateful I had moved close to home at the right time."

Alicia's mom has been one of several people in her life affected by lung disease. After Alicia also lost a close friend to lung cancer, she became determined to help other people affected by lung disease. An Internet search led her to Hustle Up the Hancock, a stair climb fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association.

"Since lung disease has affected my life in the way it has, I have always been looking for things to do to help," Alicia said. "I've found there are many fundraising options for cancer, but not many that focused on what impacted me personally."

Hustle Up the Hancock raises $1 million annually to support local lung disease research and programs. As a Lung Health Champion, Alicia committed to raise $1,000, and has already raised $4,000. She dedicated some of the proceeds from "Ginny's Kitchen" to the climb, and said she's reached out to people across the country asking for their help.

"When you're personally motivated by lung disease, it's easy to make the effort and take the time to fundraise for it," Alicia said. "Certainly I never expected to be impacted by it to this degree, and I hope we can continue to make people aware of the importance of fundraising for research so that fewer people will be affected."

Alicia is participating in Hustle Up the Hancock in Feburary 2013, too. To support Alicia in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Naperville man to climb John Hancock in honor of father figure

Steve KovarSteve Kovar of Naperville lost his father to an unexpected heart attack in 1997. For 10 years, there was a void in his life, but when he met Jerry Liberty, it was filled.

The father of his business partner Kristine Liberty became a role model and sounding board for pair. From giving them legal advice to setting up the computer system at the new Kids First Pediatrics in Plainfield, the former Chicago homicide detective seemed to know it all. So when Jerry was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in November of 2010, Steve was devastated by the thought that he might again lose a "father."

Like many people, the symptoms of Jerry's lung cancer didn't show until it was in the late stages. When Kristine heard her dad's heavy cough, she paged his primary doctor about her concerns. After several months of testing, it was revealed that he had stage IV cancer in the right lung. The diagnosis came as a shock to him and his family because he'd quit smoking more than 30 years ago and never worked in dangerous environments. It was especially unnerving to Steve because, as a doctor, he knew how hard the next few months of chemotherapy treatments would be.

"Cancer doesn't just hurt the person who has it; it hurts the whole family," Steve said. "It puts everyone's life on hold."

Steve admires Jerry for maintaining a positive attitude through his treatments and surgery to remove part of his lung. Always a straight shooter, Jerry is the first to say "cancer sucks," but he's not going to let it keep him from fulfilling his role as a father.

"He could get down about it, but instead he chooses to take each day as it comes," Steve said. "He's still willing to listen and be there for all the people in his life."

Steve wanted a way to honor Jerry for his resilience. Since he's a fitness buff, he signed up for Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-stair climb hosted by Respiratory Health Association. Now in its 15th year, the event raises more than $1 million annually to support local lung disease research, advocacy and education.

"I've done marathons for my health before, but I wanted to do this for Jerry," Steve said. "If I can raise five, 10 or 20 dollars and that's the difference between doing research or not, it's worth a lot. If climbing could give Jerry the chance to get a new chemo drug to give him and his family more time, how could I not do this?"

Steve will participate in the fundraiser February 26 with more than 4,000 other climbers. He said he's excited to complete this for Jerry and everyone else affected by lung disease.

"This is about living life and experiencing something," Steve said. "This is to help a kid with asthma, help someone quit smoking or help someone learn the signs and symptoms of lung cancer. That's why I'm doing this climb."

To learn more or register for Hustle, visit To support Steve in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Daughter honors father with John Hancock Center stair climb

Jamie MillerJamie Miller's last memory of her father riding a bike is bittersweet. It was during her family's vacation at Cannon Beach, Oregon, in May of 2010, and her dad was determined to pedal through the sand despite his deteriorating lung capacity. Jamie and her brother followed, assisting him.

"It was almost like helping someone learn how to ride a bike again," Jamie said. "We held onto his seat and pushed as he pedaled."

For years, Bob Miller biked in races and took friends and family on bike tours, always leading the pack. But in 2009, he noticed pedaling and controlling his breathing was becoming harder. After several doctors visits, he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It came as a shock because he had been in peak physical condition and had never smoked. X-rays showed the cancer had metastasized to other parts of his body. He went in for emergency brain surgery one week later to remove a tumor.

Jamie, her brother and mother stayed by her father's side for nearly one year. They knew the surgery was merely a precursor to more medical needs and that it wouldn't save his life. But instead of focusing on the grim present, Bob wanted to share as much as he could with his family. They traveled to one of his favorite places, the Grand Canyon, and spent time at the beach just as they had every other year.

"There were moments of despair and asking ‘Why me?', but we all wanted to be together as happy as we could be," Jamie said. "We wanted to make as many memories and talk to him as much as we could. I tried to imagine what I'd want to ask him if I got married and had kids, and wrote all that down."

Bob passed away from lung cancer on July 1, 2010, surrounded by his family at home. Soon after, Jamie and her brother honored their father's wish to live forever in their memories. They organized the first annual Bob Miller Memorial Bike Ride in Seattle and held it on September 19, 2010, his birthday. The ride raised funds for the Bob Miller Foundation, which supports early detection lung cancer research through Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Nearly 70 people who knew Bob came together at the event, and every person in the room reminded Jamie of the good times she'd had with her father and how many lives he'd touched. It was the perfect memory to take with her on her move to Chicago later that month.

Jamie has found a way to honor her father in her new city. She is joining her coworkers at Lockton in Hustle Up the Hancock, a stair climb fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association. Jamie will join more than 4,000 other climbers on February 26 to ascend 94 floors of the John Hancock Center. The annual event raises $1 million each year to support local lung disease research, advocacy and education.

"I wanted to try to help keep my dad's legacy alive and educate people about lung disease," Jamie said. "This is another way for me to be able to do it, and it helps me meet more people in Chicago as I share my dad's story with them."

To support Jamie in her climb or to offer words of encouragement, visit

Woman to celebrate her lung health, honor her father

Gamilah PierreFor the fourth year in a row, Gamilah Pierre will climb 94 stories in Hustle Up the Hancock to fight lung disease. As someone living with asthma, she climbs in honor of everyone who doesn’t have the lung capacity to make the climb themselves, like her father.

Gamilah was diagnosed with asthma as a child and spent a lot of time in the hospital due to asthma attacks. Her father watched as his daughter was at times helplessly out of breath, and now he knows the feeling firsthand. He was diagnosed with COPD in 1998.

“Needing to catch your breath is something a lot of people haven’t experienced,” Gamilah said. “There have been times when I was so exhausted from asthma that I just became frustrated.  It’s similar to my dad’s COPD, which also makes him expend a lot of energy focusing on breathing. We both know how being short of breath can make you tire so easily.” 

COPD is a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage and damage to the lungs. It affects 24 million people and although it is not reversible, it can be managed. Gamilah’s father keeps his under control by maintaining a steady work out schedule and eating healthy meals. Despite his good habits, he requires oxygen most of the time and it’s hard for him to travel from Texas to Frankfort, Ill., to see his daughter.

Gamilah said she wishes more than anything that her father could participate in the climb with her, or at least just be at the top to greet her. Because he can’t, she participates to raise money for research to help people like her father. Each year she climbs as a Lung Health Champion and raises $1,000.

“I get inspired and actually shock myself once I get to the top,” Gamilah said. “I didn’t train in the past, but this year I am training and look forward to knocking minutes off of my time!”

Now in its 15th year, Hustle Up the Hancock is hosted by RHAMC to support local lung disease research and programs. Each year, more than 4,000 people race to the top of John Hancock Center to raise more than $1 million for local lung disease research and programs. The event offers a 94-story full climb or the 52-story CBS2 half climb.

Learn more at To support Gamilah in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to

Daughter doing stair climb in memory of her father

ruppelWhen Heidi Ruppel was in college four years ago she received a call from home letting her know her father wasn’t doing well. After more than two years of him remaining active despite having been diagnosed with lung cancer, the disease had started to take a toll on his body.

Roger Ruppel was diagnosed with lung cancer the day before Thanksgiving in 2004. He’d gone in for a doctor’s appointment when he noticed a metastatic mass in his groin. Through a MRI and CT scans, doctors determined he’d had lung cancer for two years, and by the time he was diagnosed it’d spread to other parts of his body. They estimated he’d have up to six months to live. As a nonsmoker and athletic man, Roger had seen no previous signs of the disease.

Once Heidi heard she was needed at home, she spent the winter of 2007 driving two-and-a-half hours from Eastern Illinois University to her parents’ home in Chicago several times a week. She felt torn each time she set out for the other place, yet she knew she had to be with her father. Despite his optimistic attitude, he now relied on his family to get through each day.

“The entire time my dad had cancer, I never saw defeat in him,” Heidi said. “He was a fighter, and I think that’s why he stayed alive so long. I believe the people who beat the odds are the ones who have a positive outlook on life and take care of themselves.”

Roger passed away in February 2007 after nearly four years of living with cancer. Just days before, Heidi had volunteered for the first time with Hustle Up the Hancock, a stair climb fundraiser hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago to benefit local lung health programs.

“I volunteered at Hustle because I wanted to get involved in something to honor my father,” Heidi said. “He passed away just two days after the event.”

Volunteering at Hustle Up the Hancock has become an annual way for Heidi to remember the anniversary of her father’s death. This year the event will be held February 26, and just as she has been for the past three years, Heidi will be at the top of the John Hancock Center as everyone finishes the 94-story climb. But instead of being part of the celebration crew, she’s going to be the one being cheered on.

“In past years, I’ve seen lung cancer survivors and their families complete the climb, so I decided to do it, too,” Heidi said. “Seeing them gives you the energy and motivation you need. It’s not an easy thing to do, but people’s excitement, sweat and tears as they finished made me want to do it.”

Heidi will be participating with her boyfriend, Adam, and their family and friends will meet them at the top. Though a large part of the day will be about her accomplishing the climb, it will also be dedicated to her father and her fundraising efforts.  The event raises more than $1 million to support local lung health research, advocacy and education.

“I want to raise money and awareness for lung cancer,” Heidi said. “I’d like people to know how to be more health conscious. Who knows, maybe if my dad had gone to the doctor earlier something could have been done and he would still be here today.”   

To support Heidi in her fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, go to

Students, teachers climb together for lung health

Nasir and momOne of 8-year-old Nasir Lomax's wishes is to play outside with his mom without having to worry that she is going to have difficulty breathing.

Nasir's mother, Jeneen Lomax, was diagnosed with asthma 12 years ago, and the disease causes her to have good days and bad days with her breathing. On her bad days, she can't join her husband on the dance floor, she can't playfully chase her son around the house, and sometimes just walking up the stairs causes her to become short of breath.

"I get really sad and nervous when my mom can't breathe," Nasir said. "I wish she didn't have asthma so we could work out together or go to the park."

Since his mom's physical activity is often limited by asthma, Nasir immediately thought of her when his school launched a team for Hustle Up the Hancock. The stair climb fundraiser is hosted by Respiratory Health Association to support local lung disease research and programs. Nasir joined the STEM IT UP! team, comprised of 35 students, teachers and parents from STEM Magnet Academy in Chicago.

Each team members brings their own mission to the climb. STEM teacher Amber McLaughlin and her husband, John McLaughlin, are climbing in honor of John's father who passed away from COPD. Principal Maria McManus is participating to show students the importance of giving back to the community and staying active. Physical education teacher Amy Heveran created the team with everyone's goals in mind.

"I think it's awesome to go outside of a typical school day and do good in the community while coming together as a school," Amy said. "This will be a lesson for the children to learn how to support an organization that helps people to live healthy and better lives."

Amy said as soon as the children signed up for the event, they threw themselves into training to climb 52 floors of the John Hancock Center in the CBS 2 Half Climb.

"They come back to school after each weekend and tell me all of the ways they've trained," Amy said. "It's so rewarding to see the kids excited about being active and the adrenaline rush they have afterward."

Amy has put together weekly work out sessions for the climb during January and February, but she makes sure the students know it's not about who comes in first place. She tells the kids that as long as they work hard and have fun, they'll be winners. Jeneen said the children's willingness to participate has already proven that they are.

"Nasir didn't care if anyone else from our family could do Hustle with him; he told me he wanted to do this for me," Janeen said. "I was touched and am so proud of him for doing it."

Now in its 15th year, Hustle Up the Hancock raises more than $1 million annually to support people living with asthma, COPD and lung cancer. Members of STEM IT UP! have already raised more than $6,000, putting them in the top 10 fundraising teams. To support STEM IT UP! in their fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit their team page at

Naperville man to climb for lung health

john whalenFor Naperville resident John Whelan, running up 94 stories for Hustle Up the Hancock isn't just another way for him to get in his cardio; it's a way to honor his cousin Glyn Whelan, who passed away from cystic fibrosis in 1999.

Glyn lived in Ireland his entire life and John lived in the United States. The two weren't close as children because Glyn had been diagnosed with CF when he was five-months-old, and the lung disease kept him from traveling. He constantly battled infections and was in and out of the hospital even after a heart and lung transplant at 9. It wasn't until Glyn was a teenager that his parents and doctors thought he was healthy enough to fly to the United States. Unfortunately hypoxia - depriving parts of his body from oxygen - made breathing too difficult for him to do on his own.

"His entire stay in America was spent in the hospital, but he was visited every day by all or part of our family," John said. "We all got to know him very well, considering the short amount of time we had together. Of course we have sad memories of that time, but I am also happy I grew closer with my cousin."

John said that until he saw his cousin in the hospital, he hadn't been aware of how debilitating cystic fibrosis can be. It's a disease that causes mucus to become thick and sticky, so that it builds up and blocks some of the organs in the body - especially the lungs and the pancreas. In the lungs, the mucus can block airways, making breathing difficult and sometimes causing serious lung infections.

Approximately 30,000 children and adults in the United States have cystic fibrosis. It can affect anyone, but is most prominent in Caucasians, specifically Irish. Though CF has no cure, it can be managed through chest physical therapy, exercise and medications. Some people, like Glyn, require lung transplants. When he died at 17, he was the longest living lung and heart transplant recipient.

To honor Glyn and his family, John is participating in Hustle for the first time on February 26, 2012. As a Lung Health Champion, he has committed to raising $1,000.

"I will definitely be thinking of my cousin as I'm climbing those stairs and raising money to benefit others going through what he went through," John said. "No matter what, I will complete this challenge. It will not compare to living even one day in Glyn's shoes."

Now in its 15th year, Hustle Up the Hancock is hosted by Respiratory Health Association to support local lung disease research and programs. Each year, more than 4,000 people race to the top of John Hancock Center to raise more than $1 million for local lung disease research and programs. The event offers a 94-story full climb or the 52-story CBS2 half climb.

To learn more or register for Hustle, visit To support John in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit


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