Chicago Man with Stage 4 COPD to Climb Tower; Hopes to Inspire Others with Chronic Lung Disease to Join Him

Just five years ago, Ted Johnson could barely arise in the morning due to severe shortness of breath. Now, after a grim diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), he is defying the odds.

On March 8, he will climb the stairs of a Chicago tower to raise money for awareness and life-saving research for lung disease. Also, he wants to show others with chronic lung disease that they should keep moving and that they can do much more than they believe possible. He is challenging other people in Chicago with COPD or chronic lung disease to join his team for the Fight for Air Climb.

In 2015, his blood oxygen levels were so low that he could only walk a few yards without stopping to rest. The diagnosis: COPD. Doctors said that his lifestyle would be severely restricted, that he would need to be on supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day, that he wouldn’t be able to return to work and he would never be able to walk more than 20 feet without assistance. 

“I decided that I was not going to let COPD define the parameters of my life,” he said. “I was going to return to work. I was going to clean my house. I was going to mow my lawn, etc. I might have to take it more slowly and use additional oxygen to accomplish the tasks, but I was OK with that.”

And Johnson doesn’t let COPD define him. After his diagnosis, he not only worked until retirement but came out of retirement and worked an additional year. He started taking the stairs as much as possible and in 2017, he climbed in the Fight for Air Climb at Presidential Towers, which is 45 floors, 585 steps.

This year, his disease has progressed to stage 4 and he has contracted a bacterial lung infection, but he is still working as a substitute teacher and training for his fourth Fight for Air Climb. This year he is challenging other people with COPD and chronic lung disease to join him. “The first year, as I was about to start the climb, I panicked. ‘Are you an idiot? You can’t do this!’ Then I remembered advice I had always given to my students: just take it one step at a time. 585 steps later I had reached the top.”

“The main message I want to send to my fellow COPD sufferers is that that you have to fight back, no matter how much your mind and body say you can't,” said Johnson.  “The first thing I ask myself every morning is simple: I’ve been granted another day of life. What am I going to do with that gift?”

People can join Johnson’s team, COPD Warriors at

The American Lung Association in Greater Chicago’s Fight For Air Climb at Presidential Towers, set for March 8, attracts thousands of Illinois residents and people from across the country who race up the stairs of 1, 2, 3 or all 4 Presidential Towers (a total of 180 floors, 2,340 steps). More information and registration for the event is available online.

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