Human Interest 2015
To view a participant's story, click a name from the list below. To see human interest stories from all of our annual events, visit our 2014 Archive.
Hustle Up The Hancock
Spring Skyline Plunge
|Robert Senander||Beverly Weable |
|Jason Clair||Valerie Jardon|
|Josh Chernoff||Scott Cohen|
|Michael Kuntz||Dorothy Williams|
|Lung Power Team|
Fall Skyline Plunge
Hike for Lung Health
ARDs Survivor Raises Awareness at Hike for Lung Health
When Eileen Rubin was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome 20 years ago she had never heard of the syndrome. But, the life-threatening lung syndrome brought her world to a halt. Doctors gave her a 50 percent chance of survival and warned her family that she may never be able to breathe on her own again. After nine weeks in the hospital, Eileen's health began to turn around and she defied doctors' guesses. She was breathing on her own again.
"Though 2.2 million people are diagnosed with ARDS worldwide each year and nearly 50 percent will die, I somehow survived," Eileen said.
Eileen wanted to spread awareness for ARDS and help support those affected by the syndrome, so she co-founded the ARDS Foundation with Paula Blonski in Northbrook. Since then, the foundation has joined with other lung health organizations to bring awareness to the cause and provide educational resources to people who want to know more. She has advocated in Congress, presented at medical conferences, and this Sunday with the foundation will join Respiratory Health Association at Hike for Lung Health.
"Hike for Lung Health is a wonderful thing because it brings together people with a common interest and a common cause," Rubin said. "We're representing our individual diseases or syndromes, but we're coming together as a group."
Hike brings together many Chicago lung health charities, and participants walk 1- or 3-miles in Chicago's Lincoln Park to raise funds and awareness for lung disease. The event supports local lung health charities as well as Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs.
This year's Hike for Lung Health fundraising goal is $90,000. To offer words of encouragement or to support the ARDS Foundation, visit http://hikeforlunghealth.org/.
Lung Transplant Recipient Hikes to Raise Awareness
When Catherine Horine of Grayslake participates in Respiratory Health Association's Hike for Lung Health this Sunday, Sept. 20, it'll mean a lot more to her than just a walk through Lincoln Park. It will be a reminder of how far she has come since last September, when a lung disease made it impossible for her to even walk across her house.
Catherine's battle with idiopathic bronchiolitis obliterans started in November 2013. She woke up one morning with a cough and was upset she was getting sick. But the cough developed into more than just a nuisance. Doctors first diagnosed her with pneumonia, then chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but none of their prescribed treatments seemed to help. Finally, when Catherine was so short of breath she needed a wheelchair to get around, she got the news that a doctor at the Mayo Clinic could see her. She went.
After several tests, the doctor gave Catherine shocking news.
"My doctor told me I had idiopathic bronchiolitis obliterans and three cracked ribs," Catherine said, "and that I would need a lung transplant to save my life by the end of the year."
Catherine left with a plan. She began to meet with transplant doctors.
"I foolishly thought that if someone told you that you need a lung transplant, you go to a lung transplant center and get on a list," Catherine said. It turned out to be much more difficult."
Several doctors turned her down, until one at Loyola Medical Center said he'd put her on the list. But he warned her often getting a new lung just means trading one set of health issues for another. Catherine was willing to take that chance.
After several false alarms, Catherine and her health professionals' started to think the transplant may not come in time. "My doctors told me to get my affairs in order," Catherine said. Then, Nov. 2, 2014, Catherine's phone rang and a very familiar number flashed on caller ID. It was Catherine's coordinator at Loyola Medical Center telling her to get to the hospital as soon as possible, a lung was available
A week later, Catherine left the hospital with her new lung. Despite her doctors' fears about her recovery, she has been relatively healthy since the surgery. Still, rehabilitating her body to do even everyday tasks has been no easy feat. That's why this Sunday will be a celebration, and a bit of a challenge still.
Hike for Lung Health brings hundreds of supporters of local lung health charities together at Lincoln Park. The one- or three-mile walk benefits organizations that support lung disease research, education programs and advocacy work.
"When I was sick, I would just a dream of walking outside," Catherine said. "I didn't have any big goals like being able to run a marathon – I'd already done that. All I wanted was to walk outside and spend more time with my family."
This Sunday, Catherine will get her wish while making strides for others also suffering from lung disease. To offer Catherine words of encouragement or to support her Hike for Lung Health fundraising goals, visit her page at lungchicago.org/catherine./
Izzy Takes the Plunge to Support Friends
For years, Izabella "Izzy" Wood of Eaton Rapids climbed up a building for lung health – up 94 floors to be exact. She participated in Hustle Up the Hancock, a stair climb fundraiser for Chicago-based Respiratory Health Association. Izzy climbed with a team from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, becoming close with several people suffering from cystic fibrosis.
Now, Izzy has decided to go the opposite way for lung health – literally. On September 13, she will rappel 27 stories down theWit Hotel in downtown Chicago to raise funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs.
Izzy, 18, is participating in Skyline Plunge! Chicago, a charity rappel event, in honor of her friends who suffer from lung disease. She's rappelling in honor of her Hustle teammates, the young boy in her neighborhood who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and for herself. Izzy knows firsthand what it feels like to not be able to breathe, because she needs to use an inhaler when she exercises.
"It's weird to think that I know several people in my life who have a lung disease like cystic fibrosis, yet other people aren't even aware that's a thing," Izzy said. "I hope with my rappel I can raise more awareness for lung disease and help raise funds for more treatments."
Izzy has pledge to raise $1,000 for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs, and has already raised half by collecting cans for deposit. You can support Izzy or offer words of encouragement at lungchicago.org/izzywood./
When Bartlett resident Amanda Rowland steps 127 feet over the edge of theWit Hotel in Chicago on September 13, she won't just be thinking of the long way down. She'll also be thinking of her grandmother, the woman whose memory inspired her to participate in Respiratory Health Association's charity rappel "Skyline Plunge! Chicago."Skyline Plunge! Chicago is a biannual rappel event in Chicago's Loop that raises funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs. Amanda signed up in memory of her grandmother, Jeanette Rowland. Jeanette passed away in May 2015 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage.
"My grandmother got diagnosed with COPD 10 years ago when I was in high school," Amanda said. "Toward the end she could hardly breathe on her own. It was really painful as her granddaughter to watch that happen."
Even before the COPD was at its worst, Amanda remembers how upset she felt when it affected her grandmother's day-to-day life. Jeanette was a beloved employee at Jewel-Osco in Lake Zurich, but as a petite woman at 90 pounds, she struggled to keep up with the customers and job she cherished once she had to carry a supplemental oxygen tank around.
"My grandmother was a tough and stubborn woman," Amanda said. "I know it bothered her to have to carry the oxygen around, but she never talked about it."
Despite Amanda's grandmother staying quiet about her disease for so long, after she passed away, Amanda knew she had to do something in her honor. Amanda chose to support Respiratory Health Association with her rappel because of what the lung health nonprofit does in the community.
"I like Respiratory Health Association's education programs about smoking cessation and helping people become aware of the long-term effects of smoking," Amanda said, adding that her grandmother was a longtime smoker until her diagnosis of COPD. "Obviously lung disease is not just COPD and it's not just a smoker's disease, but all my family is really happy I'm doing this in my grandmother's honor."
Amanda will rappel 27 stories as her family and friends support her at the bottom of theWit Hotel, at the corner of State and Lake Streets in downtown Chicago. Her goal with her rappel is to raise $1,500 for Respiratory Health Association. You can offer her words of encouragement or support her fundraising efforts at lungchicago.org/amandarowland/.If you are interested in signing up for Skyline Plunge! Chicago, visit lungchicago.org/skyline-plunge/ to learn more.
As told by Chrystal KnightMy personal experience with lung disease began in 1984, when my grandfather was going through surgery for arthritis and his doctors discovered a tumor growing into his back. It was lung cancer. I don't believe I ever remember my grandfather smoking (he quit when I was very young). Nevertheless, it was less than a year from the time he was diagnosed to the time he passed away, and he went through awful suffering.
Later that same year, my father was diagnosed with "a touch of emphysema" at age 64. My father had been a smoker since young adulthood and, when he was informed of the diagnosis, he quit smoking cold turkey. That same year, he contracted a bad case of pneumonia and had to be taken to the hospital.
During the next 10 years, I watched the man I idolized become gradually and then rapidly more debilitated as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) destroyed his lungs. By 1989, he could not climb the flight of stairs to my apartment without taking breaks. By 1993, he was using oxygen. In 1994, he could no longer do simple daily tasks and was suffering severe hypoxia. In 1995, he had to move to assisted living and, in September of the same year, the disease accomplished its brutal mission of suffocating my father to death.
Meanwhile, my father's brother, my Uncle Jim, who was also a smoker but had quit in his 50's, had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. My aunt cared for him day and night at home. The progression of the disease was fairly rapid and he died in 1992.
My mother, a heavier smoker than my father, never did quit smoking and she died at age 77 in 2011. I believe her life was cut very short by smoking also. In 2014 came the kicker: my half-brother, 20 years my senior, died at age 73 of Pulmonary Fibrosis. You guessed it: he was a smoker but had quit several years earlier.
In 1996, I learned about the Hustle Up the Hancock stair climb and decided to do the climb in honor of my father. In talking to the members of Team Cow during the Hustle, I learned of another fundraising event for RHA called the Cowalunga Bike Tour. I had been a commuter biker years earlier and had ridden between 10 to 40 miles a day in every kind of weather, so CowLUNGa appealed to me immediately. However, I had not ridden my bike recently and wasn't sure if I would have the time to train for such an event. Of course, they told me about the 18 mile and the 1 or 2 day option but if I sign up for a three day bike tour, I'm doing all three days!
What I hope to accomplish by participating in CowaLUNGa is to help in any way I can to stamp out cigarette smoking and lung diseases like COPD, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer. I would love, within my lifetime, to see cigarettes in every form become a thing of the past like smoking on airplanes is now. I would bet that a lot of the people who I grew up with end up dying prematurely because of one of the above mentioned lung diseases. That's a really morbid picture to paint and I hope to God I'm wrong, but that's what I think. And, what will keep me coming back to Cowalunga for as long as I can ride is the fact that I might be one of them.
To help support Chrystal with her fundraising efforts or offer her words of encouragement visit her fundraising page at www.cowalunga.org/chrystalknight/. To read Chrystal's full story visit www.cowalunga.org/roadofhonorknight.
In 1995, Dorothy Williams was faced with life-changing news. The mother and educator was diagnosed with stage 4 pulmonary sarcoidosis, a rare disease that results from inflammation of tissues of the body. In 1998, Dorothy became oxygen dependent and during her diagnosis, she was given three different prognoses. Dorothy relied on her wheelchair to complete normal day-to-day activities.
Twenty years later, Dorothy feels more alive than ever. On August 1, Dorothy will be participating in Respiratory Health Association's three-day CowaLUNGa Bike Tour. She will cycle 190 miles through Wisconsin to help the fight against lung disease. The 190 bike ride will be a challenge for Dorothy, but Dorothy does not let any challenge stop her from doing what she loves.
"I love taking on new challenges because it makes me feel alive," Dorothy expressed. "A few years ago I couldn't even walk, but today I don't worry about failing; I just want to have fun."
Dorothy prepares for the bike tour both physically and mentally by exercising, eating healthy and riding her bike daily. She keeps a picture of herself riding her bike in her room for motivation. Every day, Dorothy tells herself that she can do anything.
"When I was first diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis I was in disbelief and I felt powerless," Dorothy said. "My disease has now helped me to become fearless. I'm no victim; I'm a victor!"
This is not the first time Dorothy took a challenge and pushed herself. Dorothy has also participated in Respiratory Health Association's Skyline Plunge and Hike for Lung Health events. Dorothy has joined RHA in Springfield and recruited others to support lung health initiatives. She supported RHA at Congressional and environmental meetings to help advance RHA's mission. Dorothy has energy and enthusiasm that translates well into being a passionate advocate for lung health. Today, she continues to be an advocate for Respiratory Health Association and continues to stay positive throughout her journey.
You can help support Dorothy with her fundraising efforts or offer her words of encouragement by visiting her fundraising page at www.cowalunga/org/dorothywilliams/.
On August 1, Highland Park resident Scott Cohen will bike 65 miles in memory of two people who influenced him greatly: his mother and his father. Scott is biking in Respiratory Health Association’s CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, which raises funds and awareness for lung disease. The ride is close to his heart because watching his parents suffer from lung disease later in life pushed him to pave a healthier path for himself.
Two years ago Scott quit smoking, something he’d done since he was a teenager. He dropped the habit after watching his parents suffer from smoking-related health issues for years, and he knew he still had a chance to change his future.
“I watched my dad struggle to breathe for the last three years of his life because of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Scott said, referencing a disease that blocks airflow and deteriorates the lungs. “My dad had to be on oxygen at all times, until he passed away from a heart attack. Riding in CowaLUNGa is a memorial to him.”
Scott’s father passed away in 2015, and his mother passed away from lung disease in 2006. He will remember them both as he participates in the ride, which supports programs such as lung disease research, smoking prevention and smoking cessation courses. During his ride, Scott will also reflect on how grateful he is that he quit smoking, setting himself up for a healthier, stronger life.
“I don’t miss smoking,” Scott said. “I tell other people who want to quit that it’s a personal decision, but when they’re ready to quit they’re going to be able to do it. They just have to be ready.”
Scott has pledged to raise funds for Respiratory Health Association as part of CowaLUNGa. You can offer him words of encouragement or support his fundraising efforts at lungchicago.org/scottcohen. lungchicago.org/scottcohen.
When Jessie Reyna was 16, her father, Patrick Reyna, was diagnosed with lung cancer. At the time, she didn’t really understand the diagnosis, but signs like her father’s hair in the sink after chemotherapy or his need for hearing aids after radiation told her their lives were forever changed. She watched her father fight his cancer diagnosis for five years until he passed away from related health issues in 2013.
Jessie doesn’t want other people to have to go through what she did, so she’s joined in the fight against lung disease. This fall, she will run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team. The Lung Power Team raises funds and awareness for lung disease research and programs.
"When I signed up for the marathon I wanted to do it with a charity I could relate to," Jessie said. "I wanted to try to help others because I couldn’t help my dad when I wanted to. At the time, I didn’t know how."
Jessie and her boyfriend, both from Long Beach, Cali., will travel to Chicago before the marathon to meet up with friends and family who live nearby. Her mother can't make it to the race, but will be cheering her on from home.
"My mom started crying and said ‘your father would be so proud of you,'" Jessie said. She added with a laugh that while her dad might appreciate the sentiment, he wouldn’t understand her commitment to a marathon. "I can kind of see my dad saying, ‘What the heck are you thinking, running 26.2 miles?'"
As part of the Lung Power Team, Jessie has committed to raising $1,500 to help support programs such as smoking cessation courses and lung disease research. You can offer Jessie words of encouragement or help her fundraising efforts by visiting lungchicago.org/jessiereyna.
Emma Murray always looked up to her grandmother, Meri Lou Murray. Meri Lou was the first woman to be elected to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners in Michigan and was an influential political figure until her death in 2012. Emma wants to keep Meri Lou’s memory alive, so this fall she will run 26.2 miles in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in memory of her grandmother and her aunt, both of whom passed away from lung disease.
Emma, a junior at the University of Michigan, is running the marathon with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team. Lung Power Team runners raise funds and awareness for lung disease research and programs. The funds raised also support smoking prevention and cessation programs, which Emma said caught her eye when researching charities to support.
"A program to help people quit smoking may seem insignificant, but in reality that helps people from getting lung cancer,” Emma said. “It helps people live longer, and see their grandchildren graduate college."
College is an especially sensitive topic for Emma. Emma and her grandmother spent time together every fall cheering on the University of Michigan’s football team, and several relatives – including Meri Lou – would reminisce about their time on campus. Emma chose to attend University of Michigan largely because she wanted to be close to her family in Ann Arbor. Sadly, the summer before her freshman year in college, Emma received news that changed that.
"My grandmother passed away from lung cancer on my 18th birthday," Emma said. "Here I was becoming an adult and going to college, and this tragic situation made me feel like I was losing a support system."
Emma is grateful her grandfather and other family still live in the Ann Arbor area, but she still misses her grandmother and Aunt Mary Beth Murray. She thinks of them every time she trains for her Chicago Marathon run, especially her grandmother, who founded of the county’s park systems.
"When I run through the Washtenaw County parks it helps me feel like running this marathon is something my grandmother would want me to do," Emma said. "It’s nice to remember her and to use something she helped create to help me accomplish my goals."
You can help support Emma in her fundraising goal or offer her words of encouragement by visiting her fundraising page lungchicago.org/emmamurray. To learn more about Respiratory Health Association’s smoking cessation programs, visit lungchicago.org/quit-smoking/.
Elmhurst resident, Valerie Jardon, started smoking at the early age of 12. Nine years later, when she learned that she was going to be a mother, she quit cold turkey and never looked back.
Smoking during pregnancy is associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy,
premature birth, and sudden infant death syndrome. Yet, 7.4 percent of expecting mothers in Illinois continue to smoke throughout their pregnancies - accounting for nearly 12,000 smoking affected births in the state each year.
Valerie, now a mother of two young girls, has continued to go smoke free. She makes a concerted effort to educate her daughters about the risks of smoking. On May 3 she participated in Respiratory Health Association's Skyline Plunge! Chicago event - the city's only urban rappelling adventure. Valerie, with the help of Over the Edge, rappelled 278 feet down theWit Hotel to raise money and awareness for local lung disease programs and research supported by RHA.
"I lost an aunt to lung cancer and my grandfather to emphysema because of smoking," says Valerie. "I saw the horrible side effects they suffered from not having enough oxygen. I took the Plunge to honor those I have lost and to send a message to my daughters - the adventures we value in life can't be enjoyed if you aren't well enough to do them because of smoking."
Tobacco companies began targeting women in the 1920s, using marketing to convince them that cigarettes made them independent, thin and desirable. Since then, the number of American women affected by lung disease has increased dramatically. Cigarette smoking kills more than 200,000 women in the United States each year. More recently, tobacco companies have started using flavored tobacco, colorful packaging and e-cigarettes to get young children hooked.
Many of Valerie's Skyline Plunge sponsors had also started smoking as teenagers. Many of them had lost parents to lung cancer, emphysema and other forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"It's important to have things to focus on when you're trying to quit," advises Valerie. "I was only tempted to smoke when I had nothing to do. It doesn't take long before smoking starts to feel disgusting though. You don't realize how bad the smell is until it's gone."
With the help of her Skyline Plunge sponsors, including Milliken & Company, Valerie has already raised more than $2,600 for Respiratory Health Association's research, education and advocacy activities. You can help fight lung disease by making a donation in Valerie's honor by May 15. Registration for the September 13 Skyline Plunge is only $75 (50% off) until May 17. Fundraising commitment applies.
Click here for more information about women's lung health.
Berwyn resident Beverly Weable did not know she had a fear of heights until she froze mid-step after looking down from the top of a ladder in her yard last year. Her anxiety, however, is not going to stop her from rappelling 27 stories (278 feet) down theWit on May 3.
Beverly is participating in Respiratory Health Association's Skyline Plunge! Chicago event. Twice a year, 80 urban adventurers participate in the city's only urban rappelling adventure to raise money and awareness for Respiratory Health Association's research, programs and advocacy activities that benefit community lung health.
Beverly is well versed in the practice of overcoming challenges to reach her goals. She smoked for 27 years before deciding to quit 10 years ago while participating in Respiratory Health Association's Hustle Up the Hancock stair climb fundraiser.
"I remember seeing a quote on one of the event signs. It said, ‘If you can't breathe, nothing else matters.' It suddenly felt wrong that it was my fourth time doing that event and I was leading others as a crew captain, but I was still smoking! I decided then that I wanted to change my life."
Beverly says it was challenging for her to be around friends and family who smoked while she was trying to quit, and notes that it got a lot easier when her husband also decided to give up cigarettes. She knows how important social influences are when making lifestyle changes - one reason why she applauds the work that Respiratory Health Association has done to help parks, restaurants and bars go smoke-free.
As challenging as it was to be in the company of smokers, Beverly looked to the future to keep herself on track. Her mother suffers from chronic bronchitis, a form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
"Watching my mom struggle makes me more aware of how important it is to have the ability to breathe. I worry that I will end up with respiratory issues because I smoked, so I am really motivated to raise money for research that can help."
Beverly just celebrated her 50th birthday, which she views as a life-affirming event that makes her want to live life to the fullest. She has volunteered for Skyline Plunge! Chicago for years and knows that participants are asked why they are willing to do something that many view as crazy. Beverly says she is willing to take the plunge for the first time because quitting cigarettes made her day-to-day life so much better and she wants to give back by motivating others to quit.
"Once your mind is really made up you can overcome those stumbling blocks. The last time I tried a cigarette, it felt like a knife went into my lungs. I knew I would remember that. I never wanted to do it again. I want to feel alive."
In early February, just nine months after receiving a lung transplant, 69-year-old Robert Senander climbed 62 flights of stairs and felt great. Now the Winfield resident is ready to ascend Chicago's fourth tallest building - John Hancock Center. Robert, along with a team of doctors and nurses who cared for him at Loyola Medicine Transplant Center, will climb 94 flights (1,632 steps) at Respiratory Health Association's 18th Annual Hustle Up the Hancock on February 22. The fundraiser, which is sponsored by Loyola Medicine Transplant Center, will raise $1+ million for research, education and advocacy activities that benefit community lung health.
Robert says he never would have considered doing something like this before he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2009, but he was given a boost of confidence when his doctors asked him to climb our country's seventh tallest building. He will climb with the Loyola Lung Angels, a 24-member team that has already raised more than $3,000 to support lung health.
"Since I was asked to do this climb, you wouldn't believe how great my body is doing. I feel so strong, like I am in my early 60's instead of 69. It's all because of this climb."
Robert has worked with a personal trainer since November to prepare for Hustle Up the Hancock. His goal is to complete the climb in two hours, taking six floors at a time between rest periods. His stop-and-go strategy is reminiscent of his experience managing idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis - a disease that causes scarring of the lungs and declination of respiratory function.
Treatment options for IPF are very limited. Robert used supplemental oxygen for five years and spent a total of 20 months on the transplant list, at times being sidelined for being "too healthy." He was one of five patients who received transplants within a 24 hour time period at Loyola Medicine Transplant Center on May 9, 2014. It is rare for this many lungs to become available at once. On an average day only five transplants are completed nationwide. He experienced few complications from the operation and was back to work as an Administrative Law Judge 14 weeks later.
"I feel extremely pleased with how all this has gone for me. The doctors say there is no reason not to believe that I will live a normal life expectancy."
Not all idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patients are as lucky as Robert. Each year approximately 40,000 people die from IPF and nearly 50,000 new patients are diagnosed with the disease. That is why Robert advocates for organ donation and medical research that continues to improve the odds for the 125,000 Americans who are affected by the disease.
"Have hope and determination," Robert recently wrote in an online support forum after receiving dozens of encouraging letters, all in response to the story he had shared there. "Keep fighting to live and never give up."
On February 22, 2015, Mount Prospect resident Jason Clair will climb 94 flights of stairs for the second consecutive year. Located in the historic John Hancock Center, the charity stair climb Hustle Up the Hancock is one of the city's most prominent, well-known, and difficult fitness events. But Jason knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges.
Jason is no stranger to the complications of lung disease, as his story begins at the age of 13. He had suffered from a mild form of asthma (with no treatment necessary and only negligible shortage of breath) until one fateful camping trip out in the woods of Wisconsin. Jason, all of a sudden, without warning or reason, lost the ability to take in air. "Something wasn't right with me," he recalls. "My breath kept getting more and more shallow, worse by the minute." He tried swallowing and gasping for air, with little success. He compared it to being atop a high mountain where air becomes tragically thin. No matter how hard he tried, only small amounts of air made its way in. The grueling attack unfortunately lasted for hours. But luckily he received treatment on the trip and survived.
Nearly ten years later, in 2008, Jason and his wife welcomed their first child, Elijah, who was born four weeks early by emergency C-section. His son was diagnosed with under-developed lungs in the NICU, and he spent the first few days of his life eating and breathing through tubes. Elijah's lungs were weak, full of fluids, and Jason knew the situation could have been worse.
Eventually, he and his wife took Elijah home where they administered breathing treatments twice daily for the first year of his life, along with medicine and steroids. As he got older, the machine scared him and he fought back strongly against Jason. But he held him and sang, matching breath for breath, to lull him to peacefulness. These defining moments established their strong father/son bond and definitely brought them to an explicably close level. Elijah is now six years old and you'd never know, now, that he was a victim of a breathing problem.
Along with Jason's inspirational family stories to propel his climb, the other components of success involve fitness and well-being. He lost 80 pounds in eight months, 25 of them coming from training for the 2014 Hustle. He knows how important it is to combine both diet and exercise to achieve optimum results. "I go up and down the remote stairwell at work," he describes, "and it's about 2,300 stairs - 30% more than the Hancock!" In addition to the stairs two to three times a week, Jason also incorporates jogging (four times a week) and various abs/arms challenges to his workouts.
Jason hopes to finish the event in under 18 minutes this year, but he'll be feeling accomplished no matter what. At the end of the day, as a father, he "wants to do something that helps people." Jason wants to be a good example for his family, especially his son. "If you want to be a leader," Jason says, "you have to do something worth following."
Jason and his son make videos on superheroes and enjoy creating characters that focus on bravery and valor. Showing Elijah that there are things you can do now to be a hero will surely be Jason's stand-out moment at this year's event. His family lives by a superhero mindset at home, and hustling will surely be a significant step of this special theme.
Jason is part of the United Stationers team for the second year in a row, and the team has raised nearly $16,000 to benefit Respiratory Health Association. For more information or to support Jason in his climb, visit lungchicago.org.
What did you do last weekend? Catch up on sleep, take your kids to a movie, perhaps do some shopping? If you asked Dr. Charles Bower, you'd be quite surprised to hear his answer: "I climbed 300 floors, and am now halfway to my goal of racing up 1,000 this season."
Bower is in the midst of training extensively for his second Hustle up the Hancock, the infamous charity stair climb event in Chicago. His love for stair climbing started in 2014, after completing his first Hustle, and now deems it as "an exercise that he can fit into his life." His "gym" is right outside his apartment, and it's never crowded. Staying in shape is especially crucial in the winter months, as well as keeping off weight. "You have to commit to an ongoing lifestyle change," he says. His plan has clearly worked, as Charles has lost over 100 pounds.
When he first started his journey, he barely could walk up four floors. "I never thought I'd be able to tackle the Hancock," he admits. His story is living proof that with hard work comes real results and rewards.
It's no surprise that the Hustle is a meaningful event for Charles, who has endured the childhood effects of asthma with only occasional setbacks. He feels deeply about the cause it represents and the athletic challenges surrounding it. Hustle up the Hancock benefits Respiratory Health Association, a Chicago-based nonprofit that support people affected by lung disease. Participants in the event climb 94 flights of stairs before reaching the top of the John Hancock Center. Bower hopes to finish this year's climb in around 15 minutes, which would be two minutes faster than the previous year.
Charles lost a close family member, Lloyd, four years ago to lung cancer, so he climbs in his honor. "Our memories are very special to me," he says.
He also inspired one of his nurses to do participate in this year's Hustle. "She is doing the half climb, and seeing her finish will be great," boasts Charles. He serves as President Elect of the medical staff at Mercy Hospital, Chicago's first and oldest hospital! He was recently featured in the company's internal newsletter, as one of the hospital's biggest (weight loss) losers. His moving story about weight loss, diet, and exercise was profiled on the front page. His biggest recommendation to others? "Decide what you want to do and do it. Find what works the best." Charles clearly leads by example and is an inspiration to family, colleagues, and friends alike.
Stair climbing has many added benefits, and the activity came in handy during a few of Charles's recent excursions. "When I toured the Dome of St. Peter's," he explains, "350 narrow steps weren't even a challenge."
Also, it even has the ability to save one's life. "Stair climbing makes you a faster swimmer," he claims. "It came in handy when I was diving and ran into a school of hammerhead sharks!"
Charles is a Lung Health Champion and has raised over $1,000 to benefit Respiratory Health Association. For more information or to support Charles in his climb, visit lungchicago.org.
Chernoff celebrates 18 straight years of Hustling
Hustle Up the Hancock will be commemorating its 18th year on February 22, 2015, and so will Josh Chernoff, an Evanston resident who is deeply passionate about supporting lung health. He's been participating in the event every year since its inception, starting when his asthmatic son turned three. His son, who turns 23 this year, was his initial motivation. Both father and son suffer from sporadic asthma today, but it's controlled by medication. Neither uses an inhaler and the occasional symptoms don't curtail aerobic activities (such as running and cycling).
Since Josh started his journey, he's climbed up 94 flights of stairs in as fast as 14:40 with an average of 15 minutes. That's a pretty impressive record, nearly 20 years in the making.
This year, Josh is dedicating his efforts to a close family friend who is dealing with inherited IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), a genetic disease that causes lungs to fail. She is a mother of three and currently on the lung transplant donor list. "The family is actually packing up to move closer to Duke University Medical Center," Josh says, "as it's one of the best places to go for her condition." The transplant has the ability to radically improve the quality of her life. Josh and wife Julie paid a recent visit to their friend, and it gave him a renewed sense of purpose and urgency. "It reminds me of why I participate year after year," stated Josh. "The mission of Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is so very important."
As a Board of Director member of RHA from 2003 - 2010, Josh is familiar with the lung health company's values and activities to support lung disease. He consistently was recognized as a top budget contributor to the Chicago-based nonprofit organization, and many of his suggestions were successfully implemented during his tenure. Indeed, he has made tremendous effort to breathe new life into the organization. "RHA coordinates an extensive amount of activities that have a meaningful impact on the Chicagoland area," he explains. "And it feels good, knowing I was a small part of it."
Another impetus for Josh comes from the energy that the community exudes. Josh thrives off observing groups dedicated to such a great cause. "It's awesome seeing repeat climbers on event day." Seeing how committed people are to such a great cause pushes Josh to climb the last few steps faster. "It's more than the athletic aspect," he explains. "It's sort of a friendly competition to see who can raise more money." From 1998 to 2015, Josh himself has raised nearly $60,000!
Josh "sees no reason to stop climbing," as it's been an annual tradition he thoroughly enjoys. "It's short, once a year, and it takes you about 360 days to forget how aching it is," he jokes. He is hoping to climb at least seven more years and make it a total of 25 Hustles.
Josh is a Lung Health Champion and has personally raised over $3,500 to benefit Respiratory Health Association, and hopes to raise double that before the day of the event. For more information or to support Josh in his climb, visit lungchicago.org.
Together at the Top
Fifth time's a charm for Kankakee County resident Michael Kuntz, who will be going up 94 flights of stairs on February 22 at the 18th Annual Hustle Up the Hancock. Kuntz is a ComEd (subsidiary of Exelon) employee who's been personally touched by a family member's struggle with lung disease. In 2015, as the presenting sponsor, the Exelon team has raised and generously donated over $31,500 to support Respiratory Health Association in its mission to generate awareness about lung disease research and programs through education and advocacy.
Michael, who has been with ComEd for 18 years, started participating in the Hustle to support Earl Daily, his father-in-law who recently passed from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a progressive respiratory illness that makes it hard to breathe. COPD is also one of the most common long diseases and is the third leading cause of death and disability. Earl was a lifelong farmer and smoking was unfortunately his own choice. "Earl battled the disease for 10 years and was on oxygen 24/7 during the end," he says.
"The healthcare providers that cared for Earl were so wonderful," Michael describes, "and when I happened to receive an e-mail for volunteers, I thought that the Hustle would be something great and beneficial to be a part of." Now, Michael dedicates his climbs to Earl. "It's more of a tribute now," Michael explains. "Also, I climb to keep the importance of respiratory health prominent and top of mind to people all over Illinois."
This year's Hustle will be extra special for Kuntz, who participates each year with his family. His oldest son Jake is graduating high school and thinking of attending SIU-Edwardsville next year, so this could be his last time participating. Jake and his brother Ben have been climbing along with Kuntz for the last several years.
Kuntz fondly remembers the start of each event, because he is with those he loves the most. "There is so much excitement and many nerves leading up to the first set of stairs," he says. "And although we don't finish at the same time, my sons wait for me so we can get pictures taken at the top."
For the last few years, Michael and his family have been making it a weekend trip to the city that the kids really enjoy. "We get a hotel room downtown and then we Hustle the next morning," he says. "The city certainly exudes a different vibe from St. Anne and the farm we live on," Michael jokes, "and it's definitely a nice change of pace."
Michael has set a goal every year to finish before 20 minutes, quite an impressive time. He plans on achieving that again this year, as he really feeds off the energy from all the other participants. "The motivation is everywhere," he states. To train for the Hustle, Michael walks and jogs on the treadmill and does activities around the farm.
It's incredibly endearing to Michael to be able to keep a family member's name and memory alive with something he's physically doing. "The fact that I can do it with my family is even more meaningful," he says.
For more information or to support Michael in his climb, visit lungchicago.org.