Human Interest Stories

Cheryl Keeler was quick to turn adversity into advocacy

An 11.5 year survivor of a bilateral (both) lung transplant, Cheryl Keeler loved her role as a director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). However, Cheryl has swapped that role for a full-time volunteer position as president of Second Wind Lung Transplant Association, one of the charity partners in the 2016 Hike for Lung Health. Second Wind provides information about lung transplants and seeks to improve the quality of life for lung transplant recipients, candidates and their families.

Before her own transplant, Cheryl traveled for work and enjoyed the busy pace of supporting Union members in a large region, negotiating contracts with cities and supporting employee groups. Some shortness of breath in 1996 was a cue that something was amiss with her health, and that quickly turned to pneumonia. She wound up in the Intensive Care Unit, on a ventilator, and ultimately diagnosised with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and emphysema.

“My mother had died from lung cancer, and I smoked when I was younger, but otherwise I always had a clean bill of health,” Cheryl says.

Following that episode, Cheryl continued to work, and also see her local pulmonary physician in Columbus, Ohio. Based on her declining condition, he she suggested she consider a lung transplant and gave her the choice of several respected medical centers in Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.

“I opted for Cleveland because at the time, they had done the most transplants,” she says.

After a couple of false hopes of a transplant opportunity, within about 9 months, a call came in Feburary 2005 that the transplant team had a likely match for her. Wait times for lungs are shorter than wait times for other organs because there are fewer lung transplants and thus less demand for organs. While kidney patients can wait years for organs, lung patients typically only wait months. At this point, Cheryl had just 14% lung capacity and was on an oxygen concentrator at the office and at home, as well as a portable unit. And she was just 56 years old.

“I was working late, negotiating a contract and writing drafts for a large employee unit with the city of Columbus when the call came after midnight about an available lung,” Cheryl recalls. “When you are on a transplant list, you better have a bag packed,” she laughs. “It was 1 a.m., and I had to be there by 5 a.m. There was no way I could drive myself for 3 hours, but a high school friend lived next door and she hopped in the car and drove me. “

The lungs were a match – and the transplant took place, featuring what Cheryl explained was a “clamshell incision” from under her arm to her breast area. The recovery was not without complications – Cheryl had a stroke after the transplant, with her lungs filling with fluid and resulting in a 30-day stay in the ICU.

“There were some bumps in the road,” she remembers. “But nothing they couldn’t fix. And my worst days today are nothing compared to my regular days before the transplant – I couldn’t breath, and when I would walk, with a tank, from my car to my house, I have memories of feeling like my entire insides were going to fall out.” Yet even that “was nothing compared to the claustrophobic feeling of taking a shower with an oxygen tube,” she recounts. “You feel like you absolutely cannot breath,” she says.

Luckily for Cheryl, she had an excellent and long track record at work and she was able to retire on November 1, 2005. But she was not ready to stop working. She had been fortunate to have a career she loved, where she had worked her way up from a paralegal to a field staff member and finally a director. When she decided to retire, the president paid her a visit, and asked if she might be able to consult part-time, from home, reviewing arbitration agreements for the organization. Today, she says she is thrilled and proud to be able to continue to review evidence and write legal memos and opinions for AFSME.

But that by no means is all that fills her days. Cheryl had picked up a flyer about an advocacy group called Second Wind Transplant Association in a hospital waiting room before she had her transplant, and she sought background on transplantation via its helpline. She joined the group as a member a year post-transplant. A bit later, while seated outside the X-ray area in Cleveland, she says she struck up a conversation with the woman next to her. As they began chatting, the other woman – a Second Wind board member - recognized Cheryl’s name from the helpline and suggested she join the group’s board.

Now, as president of Second Wind, the helpline is housed in Cheryl's home office. She coordinates calls to people interested in transplant information as well as maintains a database of members.Cheryl is involved in the production of the newsletter, Airways, which provides a round-up of transplant news for members, and shares new treatment protocols and side effects so that members can understand how their condition is similar to others who have had a transplant. Second Wind also provides assistance to people needing help affording a transplant as costs for treatment can be daunting, as can medication, physical therapy, temporary housing, electric wheel chair ramps and transportation. The organization focuses on helping those who need it in ways that are just right because its members have first-hand experience in transplantation.

The 300-plus members and more than 600 internet and email support group participants of Second Wind raise funds through efforts like the RHA’s Hike for Lung Health fundraising events and other general donation programs. More than 800 people participated in Hike on September 25, 2016 in Chicago, and hundreds of others – like Cheryl and other members of Second Wind – were “Virtual Walkers,” walking in other states or towns. These virtual participants can complete the walk over a period of time, and walk with their pulmonary rehab or support group. Funds raised will benefit the other charity partners, like Second Wind, as well as the 1 million Chicago and surrounding suburban residents affected by lung disease.

Cheryl is quick to tally the opportunities that have arisen because of her transplant. “I have one son, and three grandchildren. There is a picture of me, with my son seated in a chair holding my first grandson. I was behind him, with my hands on his shoulders and I weighed 90 pounds. I frankly can’t even recognize myself." Now the proud and healthy grandmother of three grandchildren, Cheryl is focused on giving back by sharing her transplant story with others.

“My transplant physician told me I had a 50% chance of living for five years after my transplant, and I told him I wanted 10 years. When I saw that same doctor for a follow-up appointment six months ago, he asked me what I wanted now. And I said, ‘another 10 years.” With the work being done by the Respiratory Health Association, and her own Second Wind group, Cheryl and hundreds of other transplant recipients like her have a greater chance than ever of achieving those goals.


A Grandmother's Love Inspires Hike for Lung Health Participant

When Aden Weiss was considering potential bar mitzvah service projects, he had a simple goal: to dedicate his efforts in memory of his grandmother.

Sieglinde Weiss, Aden’s paternal grandmother, died of lung cancer in December 2015.

“I chose to participate in the Hike for Lung Health in her honor and to make a difference for others who are going through what my family has,” shared Aden, a 7th grader who lives in Oak Park.

As Respiratory Health Association’s fundraising leader for the Hike event being held Sunday, September 26, 2016, Aden is definitely making an impact. His current amount raised has topped $7,000. Reaching out to family and friends to support his fundraising efforts proved to be easy.

“My parents posted about what I was doing on Facebook and I asked all my family and friends for donations for my bar mitzvah,” held earlier this month, Aden said.

His bar mitzvah celebration included friends and family who came to Chicago from California, Washington DC, New York, and North Carolina. “It was really nice that everyone wanted to donate and help people who have lung diseases.”

On Sunday, Aden will be joined by his parents, Max and Leslie Weiss, brother Jacob, sister Abby, his maternal grandparents, family friends and some classmates. He’s especially happy that his grandfather, David, will join him to walk the three mile course in Lincoln Park.

“My grandmother meant a lot to me and I know she wanted to be at my bar mitzvah,” said Aden. “I’m really glad my family and friends are going to be part of Hike for Lung Health.”

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. The 2016 event is being held Sunday, September 26, 2016. Registration is $10 and begins onsite at the event at 8:30 am. The Hike for Lung Health kicks off at 10:00 am. For more information and to register, click here.


Three Generations Commemorate CowaLUNGa Rider's 20th Year

Rees 20th Cow TrophyAs we celebrated the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour's 20th Anniversary August 6 - 8, 2016, it was also Robert Rees' twentieth time to pedal north from Gurnee into Wisconsin with Respiratory Health Association.

Bob, or "Big Bob" as he is affectionately known to the CowaLUNGa family, is part of the Mooooo...Many Miles team and has been riding since 1986 in the BAMMI events.

That spring, Bob was supposed to travel east with four good friends. Like Bob, one of them had hated being exposed to cigarette smoke.

"As we traveled, my buddy and I used to make comments when people were smoking in restaurants. A non-smoking section is kind of like a non-peeing section in a pool. It just makes no sense and we really hated the smoke," shares Bob. "I still do."

At the last minute, Bob wasn't able to make the East Coast trip. The plane his friends were traveling on, the one where he should have also been a passenger, crashed in Massachusetts. As he processed the tremendous loss of these friends, Bob was driven to do something very physical in their honor. Given RHA's mission, a long bike tour that also supports efforts to reduce secondhand smoke exposure seemed like a good fit. Bob's career as a cyclist had begun.

Skylar BobHis reasons to ride have unfortunately multiplied over the years. Bob's mother has been diagnosed with COPD and his granddaughter, Skyler, has asthma. Getting on his bike for CowaLUNGa has grown in importance, and he's found a way each year to make sure it happens.

Bob has also encouraged family and friends alike to join him. His daughter, Robynn Rees Bryant, rode the bike tour with him and then discovered the fun of volunteering. She has been part of the CowaLUNGa support team for years. Her husband, Don, joined the team as a rider and then began volunteering as well, celebrating his 15th anniversary with CowaLUNGa this year. Nieces, neighbors, co-workers and friends have also pedaled with team. 

This year was an important milestone for Big Bob. His 20th anniversary - a chance to reflect on all the miles and memories. To celebrate, Robynn and Don decided to ride with him, rather than volunteer. And for the first time, 13 year-old Skyler joined her grandfather on her bike. 

"It's pretty cool to have three generations be part of this ride," shares Bob. "I have stayed involved all of these years because of the mission. It's an important cause, there are lots out of them out there, but this one is really important to me personally."

CowaLUNGa is a three-day bike tour that includes two-day, one-day and 18 mile ride options. The ride starts at the Gurnee Mills Shopping Mall and travels into Wisconsin with overnight stops in William's Bay and Whitewater, finishing on the third day in Hubertus, Wisconsin. It is a one-way ride with bus and bike transportation available back to the start line from the 18 mile mark and each evening. The one-day tour is approximately 65 miles. The two-day tour is approximately 130 miles. The three-day tour is approximately 190 miles.

All proceeds from the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour benefit the mission of the Respiratory Health Association -- to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. Visit the website to make a donation on behalf of Bob or get involved at


Friends don't let friends (and business associates) bike ride alone...


Back in 2005, attorney Joseph Doyle and his then 15-year-old daughter Sara were seeking a bike trip they could do together when they stumbled upon the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, Respiratory Health Association's cycling event through Northern Illinois into Southern Wisconsin. The event enables cyclists of all ages to ride their choice of 18 miles to over 190 miles over 1, 2 or 3 days. Joe and Sara signed up and joined hundreds of other individuals, teams, families and friends in a unique riding event that celebrates its 20th anniversary this August 6-8.

After doing the trip for a few years with just Sara, Joe mentioned it to colleagues when he began working at Pactiv, a packaging firm in Lake Forest in 2007, and they, too were intrigued with the idea of riding together. CowaLUNGa's fundraising component, which enabled them to form a riding team and raise money for respiratory health, added to the appeal. "The folks here are socially involved and health and fitness oriented," Joe says. "The idea of getting together to raise money for a good cause and being outside, exercising, was really compelling to a bunch of people."

This year, Joe and his colleagues from Reynolds Group (Reynolds Group acquired Pactiv in 2010) and their friends and family will don their bright orange Team Pactiv jerseys and ride the Cow for the 9th straight year.

"I think with our riders - the team has ranged from 17 to more than 30 members, with probably close to 100 people riding over the years - have raised more $150,000 for Respiratory Health," Joe says. "Beyond that, this involvement has given our company a way to build spirit and community among teammates from offices around the country, many who would never meet outside of this ride. We have also made many friends with the other Cow riders, volunteers, and RHA staff, who we look forward to reconnecting with each year."

Support for the ride has come many people who appreciate the important work RHA is doing. Joe told of one year in which he had helped the brother of a friend with a legal issue, who kept after Joe to send him a bill: "I told him no, that I had done it as a friend, but he was persistent so I suggested that if he wanted to do something he could support Sara and me in CowaLUNGa. Turns out he was a pulmonologist, very acquainted with RHA (though not Cow), and the next morning I was shocked when Joel Africk from RHA called to say he had donated $7,000 to the organization on behalf of me and Sara."

In addition, Joe shared insights about his ride with his outside legal counsel, David De Lorenzi of Gibbons, a general practice law firm with offices in New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. David heads Gibbons' intellectual property practice. He and attorneys throughout his firm have worked with Joe and his team at Reynolds now for many years.

"Like Reynolds, the Gibbons firm culture is very community oriented," David says. "We are involved with many charitable causes, largely on the East Coast, and so when I heard about what Joe and his teammates were doing in the Midwest, I thought it would be great to support their efforts and get involved. It's been incredibly rewarding for me, enjoyable, and the firm is pleased to be a part of it."

David is not only riding in CowaLUNGa this year, but for the past four years, his firm has been a corporate sponsor of the event as well. As a part of that involvement, Gibbons hosts a dinner for all CowaLUNGa riders during the event, and provides riders with "goody bags" like bike tool kits and this year, a special sweat towel. Each year, members of Joe's team also wear a special commemorative shirt designed and provided by Gibbons.

David talks about enjoying the pre-ride enthusiasm Joe coordinates, including some links to some really spirited videos and other information to rally the team members and encourage them to "get their fundraising up." "Joe's motivational emails are fun, and of course, effective," he says."

"I have always enjoyed bike riding, but since getting involved with CowaLUNGa, biking has become one of my primary forms of fitness," David says. "With four children and a busy profession, it's something I can fit into my lifestyle and another way of spending time together. I have really become quite fond of it."

Joe's daughter Sara, now 27 and in medical school, cannot make the ride this year but will join Team Pactiv and her other Cow friends for dinner follow the first day's CowaLUNGa ride. What began as a way for a daughter and father to connect over exercise has impacted many more people as a call to fitness, health, community and fundraising. There's still time to form your own team or grab a friend and ride for 1, 2 or 3 days. With a minimum fundraising challenge of $300 per rider, the event offers lots of fun and the knowledge that you are helping others with every single pedal of your bike.

CowaLUNGa is a three-day bike tour that includes two-day, one-day and 18 mile ride options, held Saturday, August 6 - Monday, August 8, 2016. The ride starts at the Gurnee Mills Shopping Mall and travels into Wisconsin with overnight stops in William's Bay and Whitewater, finishing on the third day in Hubertus, Wisconsin. It is a one-way ride with bus and bike transportation available back to the start line from the 18 mile mark and each evening. The one-day tour is approximately 65 miles. The two-day tour is approximately 130 miles. The three-day tour is approximately 190 miles.

All proceeds from the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour benefit the mission of the Respiratory Health Association -- to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. Visit the website to get involved at


Holly Perino, Lung Power Team Member, will run the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. This year, she'll be running for two ...


Being small but mighty was certainly one of Suzanne Grieves' hallmarks. Holly Perino, her daughter, remembers a 5'2" mom in perpetual motion, whether it was working with her husband, John L. Grieves, in the construction and real estate business they ran together for more than 40 years, preparing her family's favorite Italian tortellini (also known as "ravs") and other traditional dishes from scratch, planting her flowers, washing windows, decorating and taking care of her family.

"My mom didn't stand still," Holly recalls. "She was a great role model for how I want to live my life." Holly and her dad both say that if Sue put her mind to something, she always accomplished it.

According to Sue's family, a series of episodes of bronchitis, likely derived from environmental conditions in her hometown, weakened her lungs. In her 40s and 50s, she had a few bouts of pneumonia, which further damaged her lungs. Eventually, she was diagnosed with COPD, (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage. The blockage means that normal breathing takes extra effort. It's an exhausting illness, one that diminishes the strength of even the most energetic person. More than 800,000 people in Illinois, and 24 million in the United States, are affected with the disease.

Sue and her family made the decision to commute from her home in Ottawa to the University of Chicago for treatment, and it was during one of their appointments that the team suggested that with her vitality, and age - she was in her late 50s - Sue would be a great lung transplant candidate. She put her name on the list and the wait began. At that point, Holly says daily living became a bit more difficult. "She could drive, but walking long distances became harder. Even grocery shopping, with the walk from the car to the store, and then around the store, became more challenging. So, she worked from home and did as much as she could," Holly says. Her physical strength and her history as an independent, active and busy person served her well and there were times she was able to work, plant flowers and take walks along the beach in Florida where they vacationed.

And then, that phone call came the day after Thanksgiving.

"We planned to celebrate on the Friday following Thanksgiving, because my husband had to work," Holly recalls. "My mother and father spent the entire day cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I was pregnant with our son, and it was a memorable day because we all knew life would be very different the next Thanksgiving, when I had a child to care for."

The family went to sleep, only to be awakened by a phone call at about 2 a.m. "They told us there was a good chance they had a lung for my mom," Holly remembers. "They had to do some research, but since we had to drive more than an hour to get to the city, they wanted us to leave immediately. By the next afternoon, she had a new lung and was beginning to recover."

While the recovery wasn't easy, and involved time at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Holly say it gave her family back "the old Sue." According to Holly, "She was just 60 years old, and she could do everything she used to do. She and my dad spent more time in Florida, where she loved to walk the beaches, put her toes in the water, and plant. She was back at work again, and continued to be a part of the couples cooking group that she and my dad liked so much." It was a wonderful time - punctuated by the fact that she was a new grandmother to Holly's son, Anthony.

Things continued just perfectly for a little more than two years, until an unexpected fungal infection took hold in the new lung this past March. Antibiotics were prescribed; Sue stayed at the hospital. Her original lung, rendered useless due to COPD, was of no help to her. And suddenly, Sue had pneumonia. And just as suddenly, she died. Holly says Sue's doctors were as surprised as her family.

But before her death, while she and Holly sat in the hospital - never imagining she wouldn't leave the hospital - they discussed running together in a race. Holly had taken up running as a way to decompress after work about six years ago, and Sue wanted to get back to it and support her.

So this fall, in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Holly will be running for herself and her mom. "And, for much more than that," she says. "I want to generate more awareness for lung disease, and also show people that you need to keep moving, that you need to care for yourself and support the group that will help you if things do go wrong."

As a member of the Respiratory Health Association's Lung Power Team, Holly is running to raise funds as well. At this point, any registered Marathon runner can joint the Lung Power Team, fundraise and participate in additional Race festivities. The Lung Power Team is the Respiratory Health Association's endurance sport program. Participants can support cleaner air efforts in Chicago while honoring those with asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and individuals struggling to quit smoking. If the Marathon is longer than you wish to run, you can choose any race and run as a member of the Lung Power Team. It's a great way to make a difference.

To sponsor Holly, click here to go to her fundraising page. For more information about the Lung Power Team, contact Rebecca Weinberg-Doptisat at


Ten-Year-Old Boy Raises Funds for Lung Cancer Research

About two and a half years ago, Ian received the heartbreaking news that his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. After surgery and a few rounds of chemotherapy, Ian’s father appeared to be getting better. However, three months later, the cancer returned.

                      RHA President and CEO Joel Africk, Ian and Holli.

Ian’s father began donating tissue samples, participating in clinical trials and doing everything he could to find a cure for both himself and for those patients also suffering from lung cancer.

Sadly, after a long battle with lung cancer, Ian’s father passed away in May 2015. Although the death was difficult for Ian and his mother Holli, Ian wanted to do something about this disease.

This brave 10 year old asked his mother what they could do to find a cure and developed a plan. Holli spoke with Dr. Ravi Salgia, her husband’s oncologist about how to best support lung cancer research, and Dr. Salgia referred Holli and Ian to Respiratory Health Association (RHA).

Ian and Holli set up an online fundraising page and began using social media as an outlet to promote their cause and raise funds for lung cancer research.

On Friday, January 15, 2016, Ian and his mother presented a check to Respiratory Health Association that will be used specifically for lung cancer research.

"While most 10 year olds are worrying about playing games, my son is worrying about finding a cure for lung cancer," Holli said proudly. "Ian is an extraordinary young man,” echoed Joel Africk, Respiratory Health Association’s President and CEO. “He is making a difference in the fight against lung cancer and setting a wonderful example.”

Ian’s goal is to continue to raise funds for lung cancer research so that young people like him never have to experience the loss of a loved one to lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.

During Ian and Holli’s visit to present the check, Africk asked Ian what he wanted to do when he grows up; Ian quickly and proudly stated “I want to find a cure for lung cancer.”

Ian will be participating in the Hustle up the Hancock CBS 2 Half Climb on February 28. To support Ian and his efforts to raise funds for lung cancer research or to offer words of encouragement visit


I Never Want to Smoke Again

On Feb. 28, Julie and Brian Wasowicz of New Lenox will climb to the top of one of Chicago’s most iconic buildings with more than 30 of their closest friends and family. Julie is participating in Respiratory Health Association’s stair climb fundraiser Hustle Up the Hancock to raise funds and awareness for lung disease and to honor a special woman, her mother.

Ten years ago, Julie’s mother, Christine Tucker, was suffering from shortness of breath that was impeding on her day-to-day tasks. When Christine visited a doctor about the issue, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage. Doctors told Christine she needed to make lifestyle changes quickly to protect her health. The most important was to quit smoking, which is the leading cause of COPD.

“Doctors told my mom that she would not get to see her grandchildren grow up if she didn’t make a serious change, to quit smoking” Julie said. “She went home that afternoon, handed my dad her pack of cigarettes and said, ‘I never want to smoke again.”

Since Julie’s mother was diagnosed, her COPD has limited her in various ways. For example, she can’t go outside for any length of time when it’s too hot or too cold because both make it harder for her to breathe. She also has difficulty doing even the simplest of tasks as going up the stairs, walking long distances and yard work at her home, something she has always enjoyed. But for Julie, the most important thing is that her mom is still with her and the family can still celebrate great times together, such as when they all meet on Feb. 28 for the 94-floor stair climb at the John Hancock Center.

“This is my second year climbing Hustle Up the Hancock and our team has grown to 35 people,” Julie said. “My two daughters, Abby & Ali, are climbing with us and our 7 year old son, Raivis, will be with my mom and dad at the top waiting for us. We hope he will be ready next year to join us!"

“We are so thankful to have lots of family and friends who are honoring my mom, even my 78-year-old father wants to participate,” Julie added, laughing.

Other team members include employees at Brian’s trucking company, Triple G Enterprises in Lockport, IL. Team Triple G is joining nearly 4,000 other climbers to raise funds for lung disease, research and programs, such as smoking prevention and COPD education.

“It’s important to me to spread awareness about this event because the funds go toward finding a cure and putting an end to lung disease,” Julie said. “We hope these events help find other ways for people to cope with lung disease and eventually not have to deal with it at all.”

To support Julie in her fundraising efforts or offer her words or encouragement, visit For more information about Respiratory Health Association or Hustle Up the Hancock, visit


Hustle Partcipant Climbs in Memory of Father

In September of 2008, Jen Dockendorf’s father Chuck (“Charlie”) was experiencing pain so excruciating that it sent him to the doctor. After some tests, he and his family were shocked to hear that he had lung cancer and that it had spread to his bones. Doctors advised him that if he got chemotherapy he’d likely live a few years. Without it, he’d be lucky to make it a year. Chuck chose to undergo chemotherapy, but after just one round his health took a turn for the worse. He passed away just three months after his diagnosis.

Jen, who lives in Hoboken, was devastated to lose her father. As an only child, she was very close to him and his extended family. To help keep her father’s memory alive, she returns to her hometown of Shorewood, a Chicago suburb, as often as possible with one standing date every February. In February, Jen, her Uncle Bob and other friends and family participate in Respiratory Health Association’s fundraiser Hustle Up the Hancock. The 94-floor stair climb in Chicago’s iconic John Hancock Observatory raises funds and awareness for Respiratory Health Association’s lung disease research and programs.

“Every year the stair climb is difficult for me because it makes me remember my father and the fact that he’s no longer here, but it’s also an important cause,” Jen said. “With it, I’m personally involved in bringing awareness to lung disease and to help keep other families from going through something similar.”

Jen climbs with the team “Charlie’s Turtles” in memory of her father and aunt Kathy (Turtle) who was passed away three years ago from lung disease. Jen likes that some of the funds raised help support Respiratory Health Association’s smoking prevention and cessation programs.

“Now there’s so much awareness about why cigarettes are bad,” Jen said, “but there’s still so much more that can be done to keep people from ever starting the dangerous habit or to help them quit.”

This is Jen’s third year climbing in Hustle Up the Hancock, an event that challenges her physically and mentally. She says that by the 94th floor her “lungs are screaming,” a sensation not unlike that experienced by people affected by lung disease. With this year’s climb, Jen has committed to raising $2,000 and is almost halfway to her fundraising goal.

To support Jen in honoring her father’s memory, visit her fundraising page at

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

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


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


Amanda to Plunge in Honor of Grandmother

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

If you are interested in signing up for Skyline Plunge! Chicago, visit to learn more.

Chrystal stands up to lung disease on behalf of loved ones lost

As told by Chrystal Knight

My 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 To read Chrystal's full story visit

Dorothy Rides to Celebrate Life, Inspire Others

emma murrayIn 1995, Dorothy Williams was faced with life-changing news. The wife, mother and educator was diagnosed with stage 4 pulmonary sarcoidosis, a rare disease that results from inflammation of tissues of the body. Three years later her condition took a turn for the worst as she became oxygen dependent and was informed by three different Physicians that she didn’t have much longer to live.

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. Although the 190 mile bike ride will be extremely difficult, Dorothy refuses to let any challenge stop her from doing what she loves or.

"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 (or RHA) 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/.

Jessie Joins Fight Against Lung Disease for her Dad

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



Emma Runs in Memory of Her Grandmother and Aunt

emma murrayEmma 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 To learn more about Respiratory Health Association’s smoking cessation programs, visit


Valerie Quits Smoking and Rappels 27 Stories for her Daughters

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.

Donate or register now.

Click here for more information about women's lung health.


Beverly Takes Plunge to Celebrate Life After Smoking

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."

Donate to this rappeller


Robert Climbs After Lung Transplant

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."

Donate to this Hustle Up the Hancock climber


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.

Donate to this Hustle Up the Hancock climber


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.

Donate to this Hustle Up the Hancock climber


Clair keeps climbing, keeps breathing


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.

Donate to this Hustle Up the Hancock climber


Bower steps into shape, loses weight, inspires a community


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.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."

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.

Donate to this Hustle Up the Hancock climber 


 Read more stories like this in our Human Interest Story Archive.

More information