Local Widow Climbs the Carew to Honor Husband in American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb | American Lung Association

Local Widow Climbs the Carew to Honor Husband in American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb

(January 22, 2018) - Cincinnati, OH

On Christmas morning of 1992, Mike Gagnon gave his wife, Teresa, one of the most valuable gifts she would ever receive. After almost a lifetime of cigarettes, Mike had quit smoking.

“He did it all on his own,” Teresa remembers. “He did it for me, and for our life together. It truly was a gift.”

Mike and Teresa were married for 28 years, and enjoyed a happy life with Mike’s 4 children and 7 grandchildren before he tragically lost his battle with COPD in 2015. COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a progressive lung disease that over time makes it difficult for the body to process oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide. Doctors often compare the experience to breathing through a straw, until the disease progresses so far that every breath becomes a struggle.

But Mike was a fighter. He fought the disease for 10 long years with the help of dedicated doctors and a supportive family. He refused to allow his lung disease to control his life, and proudly carried his oxygen tank with him everywhere he went, almost as a badge of honor. When his condition worsened and doctors recommended that he undergo surgery to help lower his CO2 levels, Mike was adamant that he get home soon so he could begin volunteering and helping others. After 14 weeks in intensive care, two heart attacks, bronchial bleeding, and an infectious disease, Mike battled his way back to health and was able to return home.

“It was scary at first,” Teresa remembers, “learning how to use all the equipment correctly. Mike was definitely not in the best of health, but he was so excited that he got to go home.”

And for a while, everything was almost back to normal. “I remember that day, July 17th,” Teresa remembers, “Mike had a great day. He went to the barber, and we stopped for peach milkshakes since the weather was so beautiful. He did laundry while I worked in the yard, which he hadn’t had the strength to do in years,” she said. “I texted the kids a picture and told them all about it, and they all responded, “Dad is back!’”

But the next day, something was wrong. Mike was having difficulty breathing and felt exhausted. Teresa guided him through the exercises recommended by his therapist, but it wasn’t helping. “Then he looked at me, and in a second his lips turned blue. His eyes rolled into the back of his head,” she remembers. Teresa called 911 and performed CPR, but Mike was gone by the time the ambulance arrived.   

“I know it’s a cliché, but he really was my best friend. I lost my soul mate the day Mike died,” Teresa said. “Even though he was sick for so long, I wasn’t ready to lose him so quickly, especially after such a wonderful day.”

The family rallied in the face of Mike’s loss. Teresa was determined to continue Mike’s kind, giving nature, and turn their tragedy into something positive. “At Mike’s funeral we passed out lung pins to everyone.  They’re a little reminder of Mike, and also a reminder to think about how important our breath is to our life.”

Determined to make even more of an impact, Teresa reached out to the American Lung Association in Ohio to see how she could get involved. “That’s when we signed up for the Fight for Air Climb the first time,” Teresa remembers. The event, which invites participants to race to the top of the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati, raises funds for research, education, and advocacy efforts to help lung disease patients across the country.

The experience was a surprising one for Teresa and her family. “Raising money for such an important cause was wonderful, but what really struck me was how close it made me feel to Mike. As I went up the stairs my chest became tighter, breathing was extremely hard, and the coughing was almost impossible to stop. And it occurred to me, this is what Mike went through every day.” She remembers. “I knew he had some tough times, but until I felt my own lungs screaming like that, I didn’t really realize exactly what living with COPD must have been like on a daily basis.”

The Michael Gagnon Team made it to the top of the Carew for the first time in 2016, and they’ve competed in every Fight for Air Climb since. They’re currently raising funds and getting ready to climb those 45 flights again on Sunday, February 11.

“Anyone who even just tries the Fight for Air Climb will understand exactly what it must be like for a person with a lung disease. It teaches you to take care of your lungs, and value your health and your loved ones while you have them,” Teresa says.

Registration is still open for the Cincinnati Fight for Air Climb at the Carew Tower on February 11, 2018. To learn more, donate, or register, visit ClimbTheCarew.org.

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