Louise was just 10 years old when she and her brother, Robert, were chosen by the American Lung Association to be the inspiration for one of their iconic Christmas Seals. This honor was bestowed on the siblings because they had just returned from an eight-month stint in a tuberculosis (TB) sanitorium, where they saw first-hand the devastation lung disease could have on the community.

At the time, Louise, her six siblings, parents and grandmother lived on a farm in New Jersey. It was her grandmother who first contracted TB and was sent to a sanitorium. Soon after, the children were tested with patch tests at school and, though both Louise and her brother had no symptoms, the tests came back positive. This required the family do a follow-up chest X-ray which showed a shadow on her lungs. “I remember it was about two weeks before Christmas, and I cried and cried because my father said he had to send us away,” Louise said.

Being so young, Louise remembers little of her time in the sanitorium, instead recalling the feeling of isolation. “Looking back, they were really great. I had a tutor so that I didn’t fall behind in my education. That was my main focus because my family was busy with the farm and couldn’t visit often. It was lonely because I came from such a large family, and I was alone for Christmas which was very heartbreaking,” Louise remembered.

Luckily, everyone in Louise’s family recovered and returned home. But the experience inspired her parents to get involved with the American Lung Association, the organization that is credited with finally bringing the TB epidemic to an end. This is how Louise became aware of the Christmas Seals program.

Lung Disease Continues to Hit Close to Home

Years later, Louise got married and began receiving her own package of Christmas Seals. Her husband had worked in the Navy as a boiler technician in the base of a ship. Again, the American Lung Association's vision to rid the world of lung disease hit close to home when they found out that potential occupational exposure had caused him to develop COPD and pulmonary fibrosis. These progressive lung diseases were something that he struggled with for the rest of his life, until finally becoming 100% disabled because of his difficulty breathing. From that point on the Veteran’s Administration (VA) provided him with medication to stabilize his condition.

Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a particular challenge for Louise and her husband. As so many others experienced in person visits were not available. “This meant he didn’t have his prescribed medication for about three weeks, and by the time he went back on it his breathing had gotten worse and he had developed other symptoms,” Louise explained.

At one point he had become so fatigued and uncomfortable that he asked to be taken to the hospital. This was still around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, so hospitals were limiting who was allowed in the building. Louise was forced to drop her husband off and wait to hear from him via phone. “That night we talked on the phone for a while and I told him I would see him the next day. Unfortunately, he never made it home. His heart and lungs gave out,” Louise explained.

Further Involvement with COVID-19

Before this loss, Louise had become an avid COVID-19 mask maker, using her sewing expertise to help those in her community. "My grandkids encouraged me to start making face masks and after a while I couldn't keep up with the demand! My husband used to help me a lot by sitting with me and cutting out material and such.” So far, Louise believes she has made about 3,600 face masks, about half of which she has donated to local churches, hospitals, schools, and charities. “I'm still doing them off and on, but just like a couple here and there if someone asks,” she said.

But with the holiday season fast approaching, she has returned to the cause that has been dear to her heart for the past 51 years. “Christmas Seals have become so much more now. I look forward to the stamps each year and putting them on the backs of Christmas cards. I usually put a two of them at a time. Whatever leftovers I have I share with friends and relatives. I hope it encourages them to get involved,” Louise said.

“It makes me feel hopeful knowing that there are people out there working hard to find cures for other devastating lung diseases like COPD and pulmonary fibrosis. I mean the Lung Association found a cure for TB all those years ago. So, why not others? That is a mission I will always support.”

To learn more about Christmas Seals or how you can help us find a cure for lung disease visit Lung.org/donate.

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