Daniel Dolan-Laughlin: Championing Healthy Air

When Daniel Dolan-Laughlin first experienced shortness of breath, it didn't occur to him that he might be fighting a life-threatening case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). After a bilateral pulmonary transplant saved his life, Dolan-Laughlin dedicated himself to advocating for healthier air and supporting others with COPD. Dolan-Laughlin's strong spirit inspires many to take action in the fight for health and for a healthier environment.

Q: How did your fight for air begin?

In the late 1980s, I was diagnosed with COPD. I thought the shortness of breath was part of the aging process — it never occurred to me that my lungs could be deteriorating. My condition worsened and in October 2011, my lung collapsed. After doctors unsuccessfully tried for several weeks to repair my failing lung, I was told that I was going to be put on a ventilator, which was a step I was not willing to take. I was going to die.

But just then, I received a wonderful gift. I got my double lung transplant, performed by the skilled doctors at Loyola University Medical Center. The day after my transplant, I got out of bed. Five days later I was moved out of the ICU. After two more days, I was walking laps without oxygen for the first time in years. It was incredible to be able to breathe.

Q: What's your advice for someone diagnosed with COPD?

Listen to your doctor or pulmonologist and find a local branch of a Better Breathers Club. It helps to be with others who are going through the same thing. You can improve your quality of life through a positive attitude and exercise to strengthen your body around your lungs — even walking to the mailbox counts. I used to ride my bike to lung rehabilitation with an oxygen tank strapped to my back.

Q: How does air pollution affect your health?

When I had COPD, an ozone action day was potentially disastrous. I stayed indoors and in air-conditioning. If I had to go outside, I would wear a mask. For those of us with COPD, it feels like someone has us around the throat. But pollution affects everyone. If you go downtown on a warmer day, your eyes may burn or you may wheeze after climbing subway steps.

Q: How can someone interested in clean air advocacy get started?

Get involved. Contact the American Lung Association and sign up for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearings. Participate in the Lung Association's lung walks and stair climbs. Before I got healthy, I couldn't climb a flight of stairs without stopping several times. Now I've climbed the Presidential Towers in Chicago through the Fight for Air Climb events.

Q: What has been most rewarding for you as a clean air advocate?

I'm very involved with the Better Breathers Club and head the branch in Wheaton, Illinois. Two members of our club got off oxygen through hard work and exercise, which is amazing and extremely rewarding to witness.

About a year and a half ago, I was recognized at the White House as a Champion of Change. I was the only honoree who wasn't a doctor or scientist — I was just someone who came through a disease and inspired others along the way. I get excited any time the government passes tighter emissions control regulations or brings coal plants into compliance. I am so grateful to organizations such as the Lung Association that raise awareness. Awareness is the first step toward fixing things.

Join Dan in the fight for healthy air by sharing your story.

Page last updated: March 5, 2020

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