Jacksonville Woman to Climb 37 Stories on Behalf of U.S. Marine Uncle

Kelli Bethel joins hundreds of lung health advocates for Lung Association’s Fight For Air Climb on March 23 at Bank of America Tower

When Kelli Bethel’s uncle, Freddie, was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, she immediately began searching for something she could do to show her support in what felt like an impossible time. Then she found the Jacksonville Fight For Air Climb and determined that climbing 37 stories of the Bank of America Tower alongside hundreds of lung health advocates was just the task to get her focused.

Bethel’s uncle, Freddie, served in the U.S. Marines and was deployed to Vietnam twice. Afterwards, he was stationed at Camp LeJeune. Last year he was diagnosed with lung cancer, following a PET scan.

“It’s been so difficult for Uncle Freddie and the whole family. The thing has stood out to me is watching him struggle with his appetite—everything tastes burnt,” recounted Bethel. “The Fight For Air Climb resonated with me because it was something to do during this impossible time. While I can’t actually be put in Uncle Freddie’s shoes, I can show him I’m with him by doing this tangible thing to honor his struggle.”

The Jacksonville native understands that the ability to breathe easily should not be taken for granted. Bethel’s husband, John, is a firefighter with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. Lung health and safety are critical for firefighters and first responders because the nature of their work puts them at a higher risk for lung disease.

About ten years ago, when Bethel was still in high school, her mother began struggling for breath. At one point, it had gotten so severe that doctors thought it was a rare, adult onset of cystic fibrosis. Eventually, they came to the correct diagnosis: bronchiectasis, an under-diagnosed condition with symptoms that can mirror other lung diseases. With Bethel’s help, her mother has learned to manage her condition. However, they need to stay proactive, as a common cold can easily lead to pneumonia. A bought with the COVID-19 Delta variant led to a 15-day stay in the hospital.

Bethel is committed to giving back to the Jacksonville community and began volunteering in high school. Since then, she has logged more than 4,100 hours to causes near to her heart, including children in foster care, education and human trafficking. After losing her father to congestive heart failure in 2019, she became an advocate for heart health.

Bethel can trace her drive to help people back to the early hours of her life. She was surrendered by her birth mother the year before the Florida Safe Haven Law came into effect. She was found and taken to a nearby hospital. She still has the t-shirt that was signed by the doctors, nurses and staff members.

“I think about all the people who took care of me in my time of need. That’s what fuels me to pay it forward and make a difference,” Bethel said. “I’m encouraging anyone who can to meet us on the stairs on March 23. Together, we create a future free of lung cancer and lung disease.”

Registration for the Jacksonville Fight For Air Climb is $35 and includes a $100 fundraising minimum. For more information, visit ClimbJax.org.

Participation in the 16th annual Jacksonville Fight For Air Climb supports the work of the Lung Association to defeat lung cancer, improve the air we breathe, reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families and eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases.

For more information, contact:

Victoria O'Neill
(312) 273-5890
[email protected]

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