On September 23, the Passaglia family joined hundreds of people at the sixth annual Hike for Lung Health in Lincoln Park. Hosted by Respiratory Health Association, the event raised more than $90,000 for 11 lung health organizations. Participants walked 1 or 3 miles to honor or remember a loved one affected by lung disease and to raise awareness for lung disease research and programs.
The Passaglias walked in Hike for Lung Health to honor Rick Passaglia, who has sarcoidosis. Rick was diagnosed with it in the late ’90s after several years of struggling to treat a persistent cough. It wasn’t until a pulmonologist did a chest X-ray that it was revealed the cause of the cough was serious. Sarcoidosis causes inflammation in organs, which causes cells to form into clumps that damage the organ. Lungs are the organs most commonly affected by sarcoidosis, and it causes coughing, trouble breathing and chest pain.
“I probably had sarcoidosis for five to 10 years before I got diagnosed,” Rick said. “I don’t blame the doctors for not diagnosing it. I blame myself for not going further to find out what was wrong with me.”
Slowly, the sarcoidosis reduced Rick’s lung capacity. It made it hard for him to do simple household tasks that he enjoyed, like washing his cars, and he eventually needed supplemental oxygen if he was going to do any kind of physical activity. In 2003, he once again received bad news; he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I have four daughters, and the youngest was 9 at the time,” Rick said. “She took it really hard.”
Rick and his wife were concerned about how his body could cope with the two diseases, but luckily he was treated with what he calls a “leukemia miracle drug.” It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration just months before his diagnosis to be used in the first line of defense for leukemia. It worked, and this fall he’s been in remission for nine years.
It’s been 13 years since Rick was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, and he’s learned how to manage his breathing and still be as active as he can. He used to hike 10 miles a week, and although he can only hike 4 miles now, he still enjoys each one. He also pays attention to how the weather affects his health and won’t try to fight the elements.
Luckily, Hike for Lung Health was held on a sunny, dry day and Rick easily walked 1 mile. Afterward, he carried around his new grandson at the post-event family fun fest as his granddaughter excitedly watched the Jesse White Tumblers. Rick said sarcoidosis may have changed how he can live his life, but it hasn’t stopped him from enjoying it.
“I am grateful for all that I am able to do and don’t think of what I no longer can,” Rick said. “There are many folks much worse off than me. Life is good.”
To offer Rick words of encouragement or donate to Hike for Lung Health, go to lungchicago.org/hike.
Courtesy of a press release from the Respiratory Health Association