Two Thomasville women walk to raise funds for pulmonary hypertension research
Two women walking a combined 135 miles over the course of a month may not seem like an earth-shattering accomplishment.
But when you consider the two women suffer from pulmonary hypertension — a rare disease of the lungs and heart that’s characterized by shortness of breath and fainting spells, and which ultimately can lead to heart failure — the accomplishment takes on a whole new light.
“When I was diagnosed, I was told I would not live more than three years,” recalls Janet Mabe, a 51-year-old Thomasville woman. “Now it’s 12 years later and I’m still here and I did this walk, I think it’s an awesome accomplishment.”
Mabe and her friend, Diane Ramirez, also of Thomasville, completed the walk to raise money for the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. Ramirez walked 100 miles, while Mabe — whose illness is more severe — walked 35 miles. They raised a combined $1,620, surpassing their goal of $1,500.
Ramirez, 50, says the two women were inspired by Team PHenomenal Hope, a team of women planning to bicycle across the country — a nine-day, 3,000-mile trek — to raise awareness of pulmonary hypertension, or PH, and to raise funds for PH research. The women are not PH patients, but one is a PH researcher.
“I had been toying with the idea of doing something big as a PH patient for a couple of years,” Ramirez says. “I met this group of women at an international conference last year, and when I heard about what they’re doing, it inspired me to do a walk of my own and be in solidarity with them. If they can do this for PH patients around the world to raise awareness and money, I want to join in and do what I can.”
So beginning Sept. 24, Ramirez and Mabe walked on a daily basis — usually meeting at a walking track beside Thomasville Medical Center — with Ramirez planning to walk 75 miles in a month and Mabe setting a goal of 25 miles. They reached their goals a week early, so they kept walking. Ramirez finished with 100 miles and Mabe with 35 — significant distances considering the nature of their illness.
Pulmonary hypertension is abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, a condition that forces the heart to pump much harder than it normally would. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, spells of dizziness and fainting, chest pain and fatigue, just to name a few. Left untreated, the disease eventually will lead to heart failure, though some patients undergo a heart-lung transplant before reaching that point.
Ramirez was diagnosed with PH in 1987 — a diagnosis that took three years, after she initially was told the symptoms were related to asthma, which she’s had since childhood. She was also told she had a heart murmur and that she was having anxiety attacks. She finally got the proper diagnosis after one of her numerous dizzy spells resulted in her passing out.
“At that time, I was told there were only 187 people in the United States diagnosed with this illness,” Ramirez says. “And even today, it’s still rare and there are a lot of doctors who don’t know what it is.”
Mabe began having her symptoms around 2001, but didn’t get an official diagnosis until 2003. She had never heard of pulmonary hypertension.
“I passed out over 30 times before they got me started on the right medication,” she recalls.
There’s no cure for PH, but Mabe and Ramirez are both on medicines that lessen the severity of symptoms and prevent further damage to the lungs. Mabe also requires oxygen as she sleeps during the night.
During their daily walks, the two women — who met in 2006 at a PH conference in Texas — dedicated each day to PH patients in different states and countries, often wearing T-shirts representing the various states. They dedicated one walk to PH patients who had died, including Ramirez’s brother.
Mabe says her hope is for a cure in time to help several children she’s met who have PH.
“They may not come up with a cure in my lifetime, but I’m hoping this will help the younger generation,” she says.
“Just this year, they’ve had two medicines come out, so that’s 11 drugs now that they can treat this with. In 1991, they had one medicine, so research is advancing this tremendously. I’m hoping they’ll one day find a cure, because I can’t imagine a child going through what I’ve gone through.”
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November is Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month. For more information about PH, visit www.phassociation.org.
For more information about Team PHenomenal Hope’s bicycle ride across the country, visit http://teamphenomenalhope.org.