Category: Health

A Breath of Fresh Air, Part 2

The image of breathing fresh air has captured my imagination lately.

In part, it’s because I’m doing the Clean Air Challenge in a few weeks (and, realized last night that it’s a week earlier than I had on my calendar … whoops!), and that’s all about breath and air. The Clean Air Challenge is a long bike ride (up to 100 miles … last year Erin and I rode 60. This year, due to injuries and stress and other factors, it will be less) out of Talkeetna that raises money for the American Lung Association, trying to make the world a better place for people with lung diseases — asthma, COPD, lung cancer, etc. People like me, and a lot of people I care about deeply.

But I also just got back from my second service trip to rural Guatemala, a small village in the highlands of Quiche.

One of the most fun things about visiting Esquipulas is getting to know the children, who are fascinated with us and the pictures we take on our smart phones. 

However, this time I noticed something different.

When I held this sweet baby, I noticed her cough.


Her sister also coughed.


These kids … I also heard coughing.


Kids cough. I was a Children’s Hospital Chaplain for over a decade, and I’ve been around a lot of kids coughing. And I finally get that when I get sick each January, and my cough lasts for 6-7 weeks, that’s likely got a lot to do with my asthma.

But where we were in Guatemala, there’s one doctor for about every 10,000 people. 

The infant mortality rate in this area is in the mid-twenties per 1,000 (compared to 5-6 deaths per 1,000 in Alaska). And the leading causes of death for kids under 5 years old are respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Again and again during this trip, I was grateful for the work of Medical Teams International, to get a clean-burning stove in the home of each family with children under the age of 2, replacing smoky open fires in homes. Still, it was sobering to realize with each cough that it could be so much more significant — even life-threatening — than what I think of here at home when I hear someone cough.

(*I also love that Medical Teams International does important work all over the world, including in Syria and South Sudan)

I’m a hospital chaplain. I watch people die because of respiratory illnesses. For a while, I probably knew a majority of people in Alaska with cystic fibrosis. And I think one of the scariest things I witness in our ER is how it feels for someone to not be able to breathe.

And so I’ll ride. And I’ll ask for your help, because a breath of clean air isn’t something we should take for granted. But it’s something I want us all to have.

You can join me in supporting the work of the American Lung Association here.

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