Champions of Change Fight for Healthy Air

(July 16, 2013)

Champions of Change 2013 - Climate
Champions of Change: Public Health and Climate. At the White House recognition event (l to r) Dr. Georgia Milan, Dan Dolan Laughlin, Therese Smith, Dr. William Rom, Dr. Laura Anderko.

A year and a half ago, Daniel Dolan-Laughlin couldn’t have imagined that he would be honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change.” That’s because the American Lung Association volunteer nearly died from severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis) and needed a double lung transplant. It’s this personal battle that drove Dolan-Laughlin to become a champion, working to protect people with lung disease from the health threats of air pollution and climate change.

On July 9, the White House honored 11 people as “Champions of Change” who are working on the front lines to protect our health in a changing climate. The President’s Climate Action Plan recognizes the need for responsible steps to cut carbon pollution, so we can protect our kids’ health and begin to slow the effects of climate change. Each of the Champions has taken action to raise awareness about these health consequences and help their communities prepare for climate-related health impacts. Five of the 11 honored, including Dolan-Laughlin, are also champions of the American Lung Association’s mission.

Dr. Laura Anderko, of Annandale, VA, is the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies. Working with organizations like the American Lung Association she has advocated to promote an understanding of how the Clean Air Act impacts climate change and health.

Dr. Georgia Milan, a Lung Association volunteer from Missoula, MT, left her clinical practice to devote more time to environmental issues and educate health care professionals and communities about the human health impacts of climate change.

An expert in the field of air pollution and public health, Dr. William Rom of New York, NY has authored several recent papers regarding the public health impacts of climate change. Dr. Rom, an active Lung Association volunteer, has been a strong advocate for science-based air pollution standards. Earlier in his career, Dr. Rom was a Legislative Fellow for then-Senator Hillary Clinton, where he played a major role in crafting the Family Asthma Bill and other important health legislation.

Therese Smith, RN BSN MPA CCM, of Westland, MI is a registered nurse with more than thirty years of experience. As a certified case manager she educates her patients, both young and old, about lung disease and the effects of poor air quality. Smith has been an active volunteer of the American Lung Association of the Midland States and is a member of the Regional Leadership Council of Region B.

Among the 11 Champions honored, Daniel Dolan-Laughlin is unique.

“Unlike many of the Champions of Change who were recognized, I am not a scientist or a doctor. I’m someone who nearly lost his life to COPD. I’m someone for whom air quality means the difference between life and death,” explained Dolan-Laughlin.

Dolan-Laughlin, a retired railroad executive from Wheaton, IL, suffered from COPD for decades. As the disease progressed, it became harder and harder for him to breathe. As the end-stage approached a miracle occurred. Through organ donation, he was given the gift of life and hope… a healthy pair of lungs.

“I’ve supported cleaner air and efforts to clean up the air for five or six years,” he said. “It was not until my near tragedy and comeback that I decided to do what I could to give back to the American Lung Association in any way I could,” Dolan-Laughlin says.

Dolan-Laughlin has since given testimony in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearings on automobile tailpipe emissions and power plant pollution. He regularly leads Lung Association “Better Breathers Club” meetings to help others cope with COPD and volunteers to meet with government officials in support of stronger healthy air regulations.

“While my story is unique, my situation is not. I speak out for everyone with lung disease. People with COPD, asthma and others rely on pollution controls to simply get through another day. Lung disease impacts people young and old, rich and poor, all over the country,” Dolan-Laughlin explained.

More than 159 million Americans live in communities where the air quality is hazardous to their health. That’s more than half the U.S. population! Like everyone at the American Lung Association, Dolan-Laughlin believes every single one of them deserves the right to breathe healthy air.

“Climate change is the number one public health issue of our time. For people with lung disease it is important to understand that climate change is caused by air pollution,” says Dolan-Laughlin. “Higher temperatures fueled by climate change can enhance the conditions that make ozone pollution. Even with the steps that are in place to reduce ozone, climate change is likely to make it harder to rein in ozone in the future.”

The U.S. has made great progress in cleaning up air pollution, but the effects of climate change and the efforts of those who want to weaken the Clean Air Act threaten this progress.

You can help. Learn more about the impact air pollution has on you, your community and those you love. Join Dolan-Laughlin ’s fight for healthy air. Make a donation so the American Lung Association can continue to save lives.