A year and a half ago in late December, Mary Radawski went to the hospital with an exacerbation. At the time, her doctor told her family that she was close to death.
“It was coming back from the dead, that’s exactly what it felt like,” Radawksi says.
Radawski, 66, and a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, says giving up was never an option.
“A lot of people go back home after being in the hospital and they never start to work towards getting back to what they had. And if they don’t do that, people are condemned to live in their home or a wheelchair or are incapacitated and unable to do things,” she says.
After that exacerbation that put her in the hospital, Radawski decided to go to pulmonary rehab and build up her stamina to walk a full mile without stopping.
“I made it [walking a mile] about 10 days before the walk, so I registered for it and put up a page, dedicating my walk to my friend Orlan [Holmes] who is raising money for a lung transplant,” she says.
Lowry suffered an undiagnosed heart problem with her COPD treatment, which has improved in the time since.
“Karen and I made the walk, and it was terribly hot and humid. It drizzled the entire time we were walking,” she says. “We were surprised, both of us, at the amount of the walk that was rather easy on the two of us. We finished, the two of us, and because we had a late start, we finished dead last. But sometimes last is a victory. And it was, because we both made it.”
Before the walk, Radawksi says she hadn’t walked a mile in five years. She says Karen had done it on a treadmill but not outside, and neither was sure they’d be able to finish it.
“We managed it, but we didn’t do it without resting a little and stopping for a picture or two along the way. But we made the mile, and for us, it was a victory akin to running a five mile race for most healthy people,” she says. “I’d like to be able to do it again next year.”
Radawski says they would not have been able to complete the race without the support of their friends, namely COPDer Joe Meeks, who passed away this July.
Meeks and Radawksi were both very active with the ALA in Indiana on behalf of the COPD Foundation and have worked with the Indiana COPD Summit to draft a state plan for addressing COPD.
“Joe was so proud of us, and he wanted to be there so badly to see us succeed,” she says. “That’s what friends are for.”
Diagnosed in 2004, Radawski says she knew she had it before then, losing her father to it in 1996.
“I remember sitting at my desk, smoking, waiting for an ambulance. I’ve been hospitalized several times over the years, and each time it’s taken me a lot to get back. The first time I came out of the hospital I went back to work. Even when I went on oxygen full time I worked for a year because it was an economic necessity,” she says.
Radawski, a former pack-a-day smoker of 45 years, is on oxygen 24/7, which she and Karen brought along on their walk, using Rollators.
“I think people need to understand that if they don’t use it, they’re going to lose it. Everyone needs some sort of exercise, even if they’re confined to a wheelchair. There’s chair exercises we can do,” she says.
“We have to get information like this out to so many of these folks that are out there and don’t have the resources,” she says. “Interaction keeps us going, encourages us. It’s about caring what folks are doing and having a community.”