A Daughter’s Dedication Drives Stacey Woodward to Run

Denny and family

Denny and family

A Daughter’s Dedication Drives Stacey Woodward to Run

This year’s Chicago Marathon isn’t Stacey Woodward’s first, but it may be her most emotional. This marathon is dedicated to her father, Denny Wright, who passed away from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in December.

Stacey is the assistant news director at WBAL TV in Maryland, and a member of Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team for the Chicago Marathon. She’s running for advancements in COPD research as a way to memorialize her father, who spent much of his time learning more about the disease and researching COPD treatments.

“Besides being stubborn, we’re not alike at all,” Stacey laughs of her father.

After serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War, Denny took up flying as an amateur pilot.

“He was diagnosed with PTSD after the Vietnam War, and I think flying was a bit therapeutic for him,” Stacey reflects.

As Denny flew over the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Stacey was across the country in Sacramento. There, in a city where she knew no one, she found a community of runners. In her early 20s she joined a team and began training.

When he was later diagnosed with COPD, Denny had to make several lifestyle changes. Once he was on oxygen he could no longer fly. “That really upset him,” Stacey says.

But Denny continued to seek adventure, including traveling and spending time with friends where he was “always the life of the party.” As travel became increasingly difficult, Denny’s determination and curiosity only grew. He decided to become as informed as he could about his condition, which included reading the latest research on COPD and working with his health care providers to explore additional treatment options.

Denny with a young Stacey

Denny with a young Stacey

The Department of Veterans Affairs later confirmed that chemical exposure during his time in the army had contributed to Denny’s illness, along with several other risk factors. While tobacco use is the most common cause of COPD, environmental factors and genetics also play a role.

Unfortunately, COPD research remains vastly underfunded and the role of environmental factors, including chemical exposure, in the development of COPD isn’t fully understood.

Despite Denny’s effort and attempts to receive a lung transplant, he passed away on December 1, 2017 at 70 years old.

Denny donated his body to science to contribute to the advancement in COPD research. Stacey joins him by running for the Lung Power Team and fundraising for current and future research.

When she struggles during a run, Stacey thinks of her dad—and she surrounds herself with support, including many of his friends from the VFW. There’s a certain amount of stubbornness—perhaps better called persistence—required to run a marathon, and she has her dad to thank for that.

Stacey says of the calm that she experiences after a run, “It’s rejuvenating. Running is a journey. Often I do not look forward to it, but I love the feeling after I’m done.”

To support Stacey and her father’s dedication to COPD research, donate to her fundraising.

RHA Sues U.S. EPA to Enforce Ozone Standards

RHA Sues U.S. EPA to Enforce Ozone Standards

On Thursday, August 2, Respiratory Health Association and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (our pro bono lawyers) filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final ruling regarding the standards for measuring smog (also known as ground level ozone) in the Chicago region. In an effort to weaken current environmental protections, U.S. EPA is redefining the regional boundaries that are used. This will make areas that were not in compliance (i.e. dirty areas) appear to be clean under the new map.

Here is a summary of the issue and an opportunity to get involved in protecting the air we breathe:

What is Smog?

Smog, also known as ground-level ozone, is formed when pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other sources reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone is a lung irritant that harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot summer days and put outdoor workers at risk.

What Happened?

After confirming the dangers of breathing smog pollution and tightening the health standard through the Clean Air Act in 2015, the U.S. EPA finalized boundaries for geographic areas that fail to meet the ozone health standard in May this year. The purpose of such boundaries is to ensure air pollution rules and policies are put in place to reduce air pollution and move these areas toward meeting the standard.

Last December, several Midwest counties were included within the boundaries as areas that did not meet the standard and were required to reduce air pollution. However, this May U.S. EPA made last-minute, unwarranted changes excluding these areas from the strict pollution limits. A Chicago Tribune article also points out that these loosened restrictions benefit big industrial companies planning to build in these areas and save them from making expensive improvements for pollution-control.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

A Chance to Get Involved!

As a part of this lawsuit, we need the voices of people living in the affected areas to make our case stronger and protect clean air across the region. Do you or someone you know live in McHenry County (IL), Kenosha County (WI), Porter County or the south half of Lake County (IN)? RHA is looking for people living in these areas to help us to protect the health of Chicagoland residents by forcing U.S. EPA to comply with its restrictions on smog pollution.

If you want to stand up for clean air and tell EPA how bad air quality affects your life, please send a note to Brian Urbaszewski at burbaszewski@lungchicago.org.

RHA Receives Funding to Help COPD Patients and Family Caregivers

RHA Receives Funding to Help COPD Patients and Family Caregivers

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) was recently awarded funding in the form of a subcontract from the National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, to help further the goals of the COPD National Action Plan to reduce the burden of COPD nationwide. This subcontract—one of just six awarded nationwide—is part of the NHLBI’s COPD Learn More Breathe Better® program and aims to conduct education and awareness activities around chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and its risk factors.

The focus of RHA’s subcontract is on providing resources to informal family caregivers of people living with COPD. Through its work with the COPD community, RHA identified a significant gap in educational and support resources dedicated to COPD caregivers. COPD caregivers are often underprepared for the range of roles and tasks required in tending to a family member or friend with COPD. In response, RHA developed The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit, a comprehensive resource based on input from caregivers, patients and health care providers.

“This subcontract is an exciting opportunity for us to help people living with COPD and their caregivers,” said Joel Africk, RHA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “We are committed to advancing the goals of the COPD National Action Plan and we are thrilled to receive NHLBI’s support for our COPD community and surrounding regions.”

With this award, RHA will disseminate approximately 300 copies of The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit through health care providers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin in an effort to reduce the burden of COPD and improve disease treatment and management.

For additional information on the disease and the COPD Learn More Breathe Better program: COPD.nhlbi.nih.gov.

Visit https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/copd/subcontractors/subcontractor-program.htm to learn more about the community partner subcontractor program.

Alex Simundza isn’t letting asthma slow him down

Alex Simundza isn’t letting asthma slow him down

Alex at CowaLUNGa

Alex at the end of a ride

Despite being diagnosed with asthma at an early age, Alex Simundza always loved playing sports. With the support of his parents and doctors he found ways to manage his asthma and continue playing low-intensity sports like baseball. By keeping his inhaler handy and following his doctor’s instructions, Alex lived an active life.

Then in eighth grade a back injury changed everything. Alex underwent surgery after surgery attempting to repair damage to multiple discs in his lower back, but nothing seemed to work. Finally in high school Alex underwent multiple spinal fusions. It seemed his athletic days were over.

For the next several years Alex found that his asthma worsened. He gained weight and found it difficult to do even basic daily tasks without triggering breathing difficulty. Cardiovascular exercise was the last thing on his mind, but he also knew he couldn’t let his health continue to deteriorate.  After talking with his doctors and conducting extensive research, Alex embarked on a low-intensity exercise plan that combined resistance training and indoor cycling.

Alex’s health gradually improved and by the time he was ready to attend college, he knew he wanted to work in health and fitness. When he found the exercise science major at Western Illinois University, he knew he’d found a career path filled with personal meaning.

Today Alex is a Health Fitness Professional at AbbVie’s Vitality Fitness Center, where he often helps other people with asthma find exercise options that don’t trigger episodes. Though living with asthma is different for everyone, they see that Alex found a way to be active, and he feels that helps him connect with the members living with their own health issues.

“Some people think, ‘you’re a personal trainer and you should be in the best shape of your life.’ But when they see that I’m just like them, they know that they can ask me any question they want.”

Alex at spin class on July 4th

When Alex found cycling, he found a sport that allowed him to be both introspective and competitive. “My dad told me that 100 might be too much for me. He said, ‘you might want to try 50 or 60 miles instead. I said, 100 is good. So my first ride was 100 miles. Pretty good,” he says with a light laugh. Alex feels that cycling and strength training have improved his health and help him manage his asthma. He also makes sure to keep in close contact with his doctor and always has inhaler with him.

Riding his bike also restored the competitive nature that he’d lost during the seven years before his final spinal surgery. Alex describes the joy in being able to train for CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour and give advice to other people trying to improve their overall fitness with cycling. He suggests new riders gain endurance by building a foundation.

“Put your time in. It may seem boring, but spin classes can keep you motivated.” He also suggests watching a movie, which is how he got through long indoor rides at first. Once you start riding outside, find a route that appeals to you. His other piece of advice for long rides? “Always pack the right gear,” including your inhaler if you’re riding with asthma.

Alex will follow other day riders from Gurnee into the quiet waters of Williams Bay, Wisconsin. As the ride path winds into the countryside, his thoughts will likely mirror those he’s had on many cycling tours in the past, “I keep peddling. I listen to the constant whooshing on the pavement and watch the therapeutic rotating of the wheels on the concrete. The constant buzz,” he says, “is like a metronome. It’s really peaceful.”

“I’m excited to be able to ride and support a cause that has affected me almost my entire life.”

To support Alex’s ride at CowaLUNGa and RHA’s asthma programs, visit his fundraising page.

Fight Lung Disease with Your Everyday Purchases on AmazonSmile

What if you could better the lives of people living with lung disease at no extra cost to you? Good news – you can with AmazonSmile!

When you shop on AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), Amazon will automatically donate 0.5% of your eligible Amazon purchases to your favorite charitable organization. The AmazonSmile website is identical to the regular Amazon.com site. Tens of millions of products are eligible and no new account is needed – simply sign in to smile.amazon.com with your already existing Amazon account information and designate Respiratory Health Association as your preferred charity to support healthy lungs and clean air with your everyday purchases!

Follow these four easy steps to designate RHA as your AmazonSmile charity of choice: 

  1. Sign in to smile.amazon.com with your Amazon account information.AmazonSmile Login Page
  2. On your first visit to AmazonSmile, you will be prompted to select a charitable organization (which you can change at any time.)
  3. Beside “pick your own charitable organization,” type in “Respiratory Health Association.”AmazonSmile Pick Your Own Charitable Organization
  4. Press “Select” and start shopping. Once you make an eligible purchase, Amazon will automatically donate 0.5% to RHA!
    AmazonSmile RHA

Purchases made on the regular amazon.com website do not generate donations, so bookmark the AmazonSmile site and make sure that your URL bar says smile.amazon.com to keep supporting Respiratory Health Association.

AmazonSmile Supporting RHA

Now that’s something to smile about!

Register Now for Hike for Lung Health 2018

Registration for Hike for Lung Health 2018 is now open! Join us on Sunday, September 16 for our annual walk and fun festival to benefit Respiratory Health Association and other local lung health organizations.

Hike for Lung Health is a charity walk held in Chicago’s beautiful Lincoln Park that raises awareness and funds for lung disease research and programs. Hundreds of participants attend the charity walk, and their efforts help the 1 million Chicagoland residents affected by asthma, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases.

Choose to walk one mile or three miles as a member of Respiratory Health Association’s team, form a team of your own or raise funds for your favorite Charity Partner.

(Need fundraising advice? Check out RHA’s official guide to fundraising.)

Last year featured The Jesse White Tumblers

Fun for the whole family!

Once you’ve completed the charity walk, enjoy some snacks and family-friendly entertainment including a bounce house, face painting and craft tables while listening to great music provided by our event DJ.

Each year, participants also have the opportunity to see special guest entertainers perform.

Can’t make it to Hike this year?

Virtual Walker option is available and perfect for those who are unable to attend Hike in person. .

Many pulmonary rehabilitation groups also enjoy forming Pulmonary Rehabilitation Virtual Walk Teams. By incorporating Hike for Lung Health into weekly rehab sessions, past participants have noted that they experienced new focus, extra incentive and a fun twist in their regular schedule.

Ready? Register today!

Pre-register and your $15 registration fee includes a Hike for Lung Health T-shirt, personal fundraising page, snacks and access to all the after-walk activities. Day-of-event registration is $20 and availability of T-shirt sizes cannot be guaranteed.

Dr. MeiLan K. Han Receives 2018 Solovy Award for COPD Research

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is pleased to name MeiLan K. Han, MD, MS, Associate Professor and Director of the Women’s Respiratory Clinic at University of Michigan Health System, as recipient of the 2018 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD.

Two women holding the 2018 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD.

Kathleen Hart Solovy presents the 2018 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD to Dr. MeiLan K. Han on June 28, 2018.

Dr. Han has published nearly 200 publications on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), particularly COPD in women and risk factors for acute exacerbations. Dr. Han serves on many national scientific advisory boards and is a member of the prestigious Global Obstructive Lung Disease scientific committee which is charged with developing an internationally recognized consensus on COPD diagnosis and management.

Dr. Han is devoted to ensuring the best COPD care is available to patients who need it. Dr. Han has inspired a large number of junior physicians to pursue careers in COPD research and direct care of people living with COPD. Dr. Han’s scientific work, commitment to her patients and impact on advancing COPD care embody the meaning of the Solovy Award.

The award was presented to Dr. Han by RHA board member Kathleen Hart Solovy as part of RHA’s year-end reception on June 28, 2018. Funding for the award is provided by the Kathleen Hart Solovy and Jerold S. Solovy Endowment for COPD.

RHA Announces Local Lung Disease Research Awards

RHA Announces Local Lung Disease Research Awards

We recently selected our 2018 research grant awardees! These Chicago-based researchers were granted funding for their research in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and lung cancer.

Catherine Bonham, M.D., from the University of Chicago Medicine received RHA’s 2018 Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) research award. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a type of lung disease in which the lungs are scarred (also known as fibrosis) for an unknown reason. Dr. Bonham received a grant for her research project, “T Cells in Idiopathic Fibrosis Patients.” Through this research, Dr. Bonham seeks to pinpoint problems in T cells of IPF patients that can be targeted with existing medications used for fighting cancer. This is an innovative concept in the field of lung fibrosis.

RHA also awarded a Lung Cancer research award to Guofei Zhou, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine for his research project, “Targeting PDLIM5 for Lung Cancer.” Dr. Zhou is researching a new target (PDLIM5) for lung cancer drug discovery that may be capable of inhibiting lung cancer development. The results from Dr. Zhou’s study will provide insights into new therapeutic strategies including new drugs to treat lung cancer. We were impressed by the potential for Dr. Zhou’s research to be applied into medical practice and meaningful health outcomes, which closely aligns with the mission of RHA.

We expect this award will make a positive impact on Dr. Bonham and Dr. Zhou’s future research efforts. RHA looks forward to the advances these researchers will make in IPF and lung cancer.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) funds groundbreaking lung disease research at major research institutions located in Chicago. These grants are designed to aid local scientists and investigators with generating the preliminary data necessary to compete for future federal funding. RHA’s research review committee seeks innovative studies into the causes, mechanisms, and treatments of a specific lung disease, including pilot and feasibility studies for disease investigation and development and testing of new methodologies and models.

IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

At the end of May, RHA, our clean air advocates and partner organizations rallied together at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago to demand that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) use funds received in the Volkswagen diesel settlement to adopt the best clean vehicle spending plan possible. Held by the IEPA, this open meeting was the direct result of long-standing efforts by RHA and our partners to pressure the IEPA to take public comment.

The IEPA received nearly $109 million from the Volkswagen settlement after it was discovered that Volkswagen had installed software into its vehicles that masked the true level of emissions produced during emissions testing, thereby allowing U.S. diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution.

Money from this settlement was meant to fund clean vehicle projects that eliminate air pollution and prevent lung damage. However, IEPA’s draft plan for how to use this money was created in private meetings with business groups—without public input. The business groups pushed to cut emissions from trains, ferries and tugboats rather than on vehicles, which contribute more to air pollution and are central to the Volkswagen issue. As such, the plan largely reinforced investment in polluting fossil fuel use, prolonging smog and worsening global warming.

RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations pressured IEPA to take public comment on the plan—just like several other states that received Volkswagen settlement funds. The advocacy efforts eventually led to coverage in multiple media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times and Chicago Tonight. The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would force the IEPA to hold meetings and convene a task force to propose priorities for where and how to spend the money. Ultimately, a compromise plan was created that demanded that IEPA host open meetings in Springfield, East St. Louis and Chicago.

At the Chicago meeting on May 30, we called for cleaner, zero-emission, 100% electric transit vehicles and charging infrastructure. RHA hopes to ensure that the cleanest available technology solutions are used today and we continue moving toward zero-emission technology and electric vehicles.

Because of the efforts of RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations, IEPA is now much closer to using the funds to help reduce air pollution.

Respiratory Health Association Statement Applauding Illinois’s Adoption of Tobacco 21

Respiratory Health Association Statement Applauding Illinois’s Adoption of Tobacco 21

Respiratory Health Association congratulates the Illinois General Assembly on the passage of statewide “Tobacco 21” legislation raising the age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21. With the enactment of this legislation, Illinois becomes the sixth state in the U.S. to adopt a Tobacco 21 law.

A cornerstone of RHA’s work has been to reduce the toll of tobacco on our communities, particularly among our youth. Growing support for Tobacco 21 had previously led to twenty-five communities across the state adopting local laws to raise the tobacco purchase age. These local laws covered approximately 30 percent of the state’s population and paved the way for statewide action.

Tobacco 21 laws are important because 95 percent of adult smokers take up the habit before they turn 21. By raising the purchase age from 18 to 21, the law will help keep tobacco out of schools.

Tobacco 21 will yield significant health and economic benefits. The Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 could result in a 12 percent decrease in smoking rates by the time today’s teenagers become adults.

“We estimate statewide Tobacco 21 legislation in Illinois will save $2 billion in future healthcare costs. This doesn’t even include savings in lost productivity costs, which could be nearly as much,” said Joel Africk, president and chief executive officer of Respiratory Health Association.

Prior to working on Tobacco 21, RHA advocated strongly for the Smoke-free Illinois Act, which passed in 2007. That legislation was the strongest statewide smoke-free law in the country. By passing Tobacco 21 now, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of that innovative policy by further protecting our youth from the harmful impact of tobacco.


Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. A policy leader, our organization remains committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for Tobacco 21 and Other Tobacco Product policies. For more information, visit www.lungchicago.org.