Meet Respiratory Health Association. For over 115 years, Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has confronted the largest respiratory illnesses from tuberculosis to asthma. Led for over 20 years by President and CEO Joel Africk, RHA helps the greater Chicago area breathe easy with healthier lungs and cleaner air. Over the years, RHA benefitted from NHLBI support to engage national audiences to share messages about COPD patient and caregiver empowerment. RHA leads community-driven efforts, provides education backed by NHLBI’s research, and encourages policy change in public health.

Fast fact: RHA is part of the Breathe Better Network, coordinated by the NHLBI’s Learn More Breathe Better® program, which was established by the NHLBI in 2007. This national health education program for lung and respiratory illnesses works with nearly 100 partner organizations to raise awareness about lung diseases and conditions, encourage treatment, and improve patient care. The Network has enabled RHA to collaborate with other lung disease prevention organizations and leverage the latest lung disease research findings.

Sweet inspiration: For Joel, the drive to run RHA is very personal. His father had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and his mother was the family caregiver. He knows that when illness happens, it deeply affects families. Sickness means supporting loved ones while making hard health decisions and dealing with difficult emotions. Joel thinks of RHA as a bridge between the patient and the health care system that offers patients the tools they need based on the most current research, largely supported by NHLBI. “There's an important function to be had in helping to empower the patients and their families,” he says.

A copy of The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit.
A copy of The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit.

Big impact. The RHA COPD community is grateful to NHLBI for its continued, high-level research efforts to improve treatments and therapies for people living with COPD. With the help of the NHLBI and the Learn More Breathe Better® Community Subcontract Program, RHA laid the groundwork for a toolkit to help COPD caregivers. RHA worked with NHLBI to digitize and disseminate The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit. The toolkit is now available as a free national resource to support the estimated ten million family caregivers for people living with COPD. “I consider the toolkit a little bit my parents’ legacy,” says Joel. “NHLBI’s support of The COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit has aided and empowered thousands of families nationwide.”

Bright future. Looking forward, RHA plans to continue working with NHLBI to provide resources to patients and caregivers so that they can better understand their options when faced with disease. RHA is also working on a project to allow schools to keep asthma medicine on hand to help children prone to asthma attacks. The project is in its early stages but is expected to help reduce asthma-related emergency room visits.