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 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.

Her Mother’s Memory Pushes Melanie to the Finish

Two women smiling

Melanie with her mother

Melanie Santarelli ran the Chicago marathon when she was 10 weeks pregnant. 

The accomplishment speaks to a toughness that Melanie learned from her own mother, Theresa, whose battle with cancer spurred Melanie to begin running. 

At 47, doctors diagnosed Theresa with stage four squamous cell cancer of unknown primary. Squamous cell lung cancer accounts for 30 percent of all lung cancers. After ruling other cancers out, doctors strongly suspected lung cancer. Theresa was a smoker for many years although she quit several years earlier on her 40th birthday. 

Melanie recalls her mother as healthy and active, and the cancer diagnosis came as a shock. 

“You think you’ve quit,” Melanie says, “You don’t realize that these effects carry with you even if you change the behavior. The body just doesn’t turn around like that.” 

Despite the diagnosis, Theresa continued her work as a family and child therapist, working long hours to help families in crisis. Melanie recalls that despite a mentally and emotionally demanding job, her mother always made time for her family. 

Theresa endured rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, always putting her family ahead of herself. She experienced terrible pain as the cancer spread and hindered her ability to walk. 

After three years of struggling, Theresa passed away, just four months before Melanie’s wedding. 

“She was and is an absolute inspiration,” Melanie says, “She never wanted to give up.” 

Woman with stroller and toddler running

Melanie running with her children

Melanie took up running as a way to process the loss. Theresa was a sprinter, and Melanie felt connected to her as she ran up and down Chicago’s lakefront. 

This year Melanie will run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a member of Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team. The funds raised benefit the Association’s work to advance lung cancer research and help people quit smoking. 

Though this is her third marathon, Melanie continues to set the bar higher for herself and hopes to finish with a 4:20 time. During her most difficult training sessions, the memory of Theresa’s determination pushes her toward the finish. 

“The training is harder than the marathon,” Melanie explains. “The marathon is the reward at the end. If you can get the through the training, you can get through anything. That’s the mental toughness.” 

Now a mother herself, Melanie feels closer to her mother than ever. Whenever she runs, she mentally checks in with her mom and updates her on her life. 

“She gave me this body, and I’m able to do this because of her. She’s my motivator and my strength.” 

To support Melanie Santarelli and lung cancer research, donate to her fundraising campaign.

2018 Guide to RHA’s Asthma Resources

Asthma is a chronic, or lifelong, inflammation of the lungs’ airways. This inflammation, or swelling, makes airways more sensitive to triggers such as pollen, dust, secondhand smoke or pet dander. Exposure to these triggers can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness of the chest and coughing. Asthma affects more than 18 million adults and nearly 6.2 million children.

Scientific discoveries have led to improved treatments, but there is currently no cure for this lifelong disease. Fortunately, most asthma can be managed and controlled with proper medication and education.

Since May is Asthma Awareness Month, we want to highlight the wide range of asthma resources available on RHA’s website for people living with asthma. If you or someone you love is living with asthma, check out some of these key resources:

Living with Asthma – Learn more about different kinds of asthma triggers, medications, and signs of an asthma emergency.  RHA’s asthma education programs for school-aged children and adults provide much of this information. With today’s knowledge and treatments, most people can live normal, active lives and experience few symptoms.

Asthma Action Plans – Every person living with asthma should have an asthma action plan. Asthma action plans are written documents developed by you and your health care provider, listing customized steps to prevent and handle an asthma episode. If you are the parent/guardian of a child with asthma, you should complete an asthma action plan with your child’s health care provider. A copy of this plan should be given to any adult who provides care for your child.

Asthma at School – Asthma is the leading cause of school absence due to chronic illness. An estimated 13.8 million school days are lost per year due to asthma. Sending your child with asthma to school can create concerns for both of you. Learn more about how to prepare to send your child with asthma to school as well as Illinois laws protecting your child’s right to carry an inhaler and what you can expect from your school in regards to asthma management.

What You Need to Know about Asthma – Curious about spacers, nebulizers, or the asthma warning signs? The Asthma section of our library has a wide array of brief, one-page overviews with the most essential information you need to know to understand and manage asthma.

Don’t forget to check in with your doctor and care team regularly to ensure your asthma is under control and you’re following their recommendations. With proper care people living with asthma can lead full and healthy lives.

RHA’s Asthma Programs Empower Children to Live Better Lives

In Illinois, more than 330,000 children have asthma, but less than 25 percent of those children have their asthma under proper control.

That means three out of four children living with asthma are likely to experience symptoms of respiratory distress, leading to increased emergency department visits, hospitalizations and school absences.

The Importance of Asthma Self-management

One way to improve the quality of life for children with asthma is to teach them self-management. Asthma self-management reduces inappropriate urgent care and hospital usage, improves health outcomes and decreases health care costs.

Asthma self-management includes:

  • Properly identifying your asthma symptoms
  • Identifying and avoiding your personal asthma triggers
  • Using proper inhaler techniques

Despite the benefits of learning self-management, only five percent of children with asthma in Illinois have ever taken an asthma education course; 43.5 percent have an asthma action plan in place; and 47.1 percent were advised to change their environment to help control asthma.

Addressing the Gap in Asthma Education

To address this gap in asthma education, RHA developed Fight Asthma Now© for school-aged children and an accompanying Asthma Management program for their adult caregivers.

These free programs better arm children and their adult caregivers with the knowledge they need to control the disease, thereby reducing asthma emergencies and improving their quality of life.

“It’s important for communities to have access to this education because so many people need information and don’t know where to go until kids are in crisis,” said Ms. Wilson, the grandmother of a student at John Hay Elementary Community Academy in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.

Why Fight Asthma Now© is Effective

RHA developed Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management to meet the specific needs of Chicago’s diverse communities, with focus on serving the communities of highest need.

Based on guidelines from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP), both programs were developed with input from pediatricians, respiratory therapists, community educators and parents of children with asthma.

The programs include culturally appropriate visual, auditory and experiential learning through diagrams and photographs, demonstrations, group discussion and individual reflection.

All students who participate in Fight Asthma Now© receive a free workbook, which includes an asthma action plan and a free holding chamber courtesy of Monaghan Medical Corporation. Holding chambers increase the effectiveness of metered dose inhalers by allowing more medication to enter the lungs. Proper holding chamber technique is also demonstrated in each Fight Asthma Now© session.

Ms. Wilson said that the program empowered her grandchild to share asthma experiences with classmates and let them know “they don’t have to be afraid.”

The Impact of RHA’s Asthma Education Programs

To date, more than 15,000 students have been reached with Fight Asthma Now© and more than 33,000 adult caregivers have been educated through RHA’s Asthma Management throughout Chicagoland. The success of the programs in Chicago recently led to adoption by the Los Angeles Unified School District and select schools in Washington D.C.

All students and adult caregivers participate in pre- and post-evaluation to assess knowledge gain. Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management participants have all demonstrated improved knowledge in asthma management including greater knowledge of medication adherence, utilizing asthma devices and environmental triggers.

Asthma emergencies can be prevented when children living with asthma and their caregivers know how to properly use prescribed asthma medications, implement trigger avoidance strategies and recognize warning signs.

For more information about Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management, contact Amy O’Rourke, Director of Programs, via email at aorourke@lungchicago.org or by phone at (312) 628-0217.

Respiratory Health Association Unveils New Asthma Research at World Asthma Day Press Conference

On May 1, also known as World Asthma Day, Respiratory Health Association released new asthma research showing that despite over a decade of efforts from researchers, health care providers and community organizations, there has been little progress in addressing racial disparities among Chicago children with asthma.

Of all the asthma-related emergency department visits by Chicago children in 2015, a staggering 63% were African American children. The rate of visits among African Americans was 75% greater than the citywide rate.

RHA announced the new findings at a press conference held with partners from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Chicago Department of Public Health and Chicago Public Schools.

The press conference was covered by CBS 2, WBBM News Radio and WTTW’s Chicago Tonight.

“It is clear we need to do more to understand and address the disparities in asthma,” said Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer, Respiratory Health Association. “Poorly managed asthma leads to missed school days, reduced health outcomes and overall lost opportunities. No child should fall behind because of a manageable condition like asthma.”

After the press event, RHA convened the Chicago Children’s Asthma Summit, bringing together research, education, community and public health leaders working to address pediatric asthma.

RHA is calling for more research into trends in asthma; better data tracking of asthma prevalence and demographics; broadened support of community-based asthma programming to promote asthma management; and additional collaboration between research, practice and policy partners as initial steps to close the gap in racial disparities among children with asthma.

If you’d like support our work providing critical asthma services to Chicago children, consider joining our Lung Health Partners monthly giving program.

22nd Annual CowaLUNGa Takes Place August 4-6, 2018

Registration for CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour 2018 is now open! Escape the noise of the city for a weekend and explore the scenic Midwest as you bike through northern Illinois into southern Wisconsin.

About CowaLUNGa 2018

Along the way, you’ll experience an unparalleled level of camaraderie and support from other cyclists and Respiratory Health Association, while helping RHA achieve its vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

This is RHA’s 22nd year hosting the CowaLUNGa bike ride, so you can rely on our expertise from years of experience to give you a world-class event.

Choose to ride 18 or 65 miles in one day, 130 miles in two days or 190 miles over three days. Riders who select the 2 or 3 Day options may also opt to do a Century Ride on Day 2.

What’s Included

All routes are one-way with full SAG and medical support and include two daily rest stops, breakfast and dinner. Free overnight parking is available onsite at Gurnee Mills for the event’s duration.

Additionally, every participant receives an event shirt and a finisher’s medal at the end of the route to commemorate the bike ride!

We provide return transportation for you and your bike back to Gurnee, Illinois at the end of each day.

Costs & Deadlines

Registration fees and fundraising minimums vary by mileage.

CowaLUNGa 2018 price chart

For more details, see Costs & Deadlines.

Funds raised support RHA’s programs:


Ready to ride CowaLUNGa 2018? Start your journey!

New Asthma Legislation Aims to Protect Students

Across Illinois more than 330,000 children have reported asthma; however, less than twenty-five percent of those children have their asthma under proper control. That means three out of four kids living with asthma are likely to experience symptoms of respiratory distress, leading to increased emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

New Asthma Legislation

A proposed law “Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools” (SB3015) improves access to life-saving medication by allowing schools to stock undesignated asthma rescue medication and allowing school nurses and trained school staff to administer the medications at the first signs of respiratory distress.

“While current rules allowing students to self-carry and self-administer asthma medications are good first steps, those policies don’t help if a student faces barriers to obtaining medications or simply forgets his or her medication at home,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “Allowing schools to stock asthma rescue medication builds on and fills a gap in existing school policies to create a safer environment for all.”

The Burden of AsthmaYoung boy taking an inhaler with a spacer or holding chamber attached

Children from minority and low-income households are even more likely to face barriers in access to medication and other asthma management resources that can lead to poorly controlled asthma and avoidable emergency department visits. Indeed, emergency department visits for asthma in Illinois occur among African American children at nearly six times the rate of visits by White children.

Asthma causes an estimated 300,000 missed schools days per year in Illinois, which in turn leads to days of work missed by adult caregivers. Reliance on emergency care for asthma treatment also contributes to the growing economic burden of asthma in Illinois, which is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2020.

“Administering asthma rescue medication has minimal side effects and this simple act has the potential not only to save lives but significantly reduce the economic burden of asthma in Illinois as well,” continued Africk.

How We Know This Legislation Works

Ten other states have adopted similar policies, including Indiana and Missouri. Early results indicate that these policies reduce the need for 911 calls and EMS transports as a result of asthma attacks. Initial data also demonstrate that these policies reach populations of need and improve health outcomes.

To ensure any potential stock asthma rescue medication in schools policy would be both evidence-based and informed by practical experience from the field, in the fall of 2017 we worked the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Legal Council for Health Justice to form an advisory group of school and health experts to discuss the possibility of a similar policy in Illinois. This advisory group considered the policies adopted in other states and explored a variety of Illinois policy implementation considerations.

Our review of the ten existing stock asthma rescue medication state policies yielded important lessons for Illinois healthcare, public health and school stakeholders to consider moving forward. One key finding: in Illinois the existing Stock Undesignated Epinephrine Auto-injector policy provides a tested framework for implementation of Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools.

Based on the research led by RHA and our partners, legislation to allow Stock Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools (SB3015) was introduced in the Illinois Senate by State Senator David Koehler.

SB 3015 passed Illinois Senate Education Committee by unanimous vote on April 17. A full senate vote will take place in the coming weeks. We recommend that upon passage of a stock asthma rescue medication policy, IDPH and ISBE convene an implementation workgroup that can work through the details of this life saving policy.

RHA stands ready to assist in this effort.

To learn more about the need and feasibility of stock asthma rescue mediation in Illinois schools, download the issue brief we produced with Legal Council for Health Justice.