Over 400 Race/Walk for Pulmonary Hypertension, Team PH Hope

By: Chuck Finder

More than 400 people came out Sunday to run or walk for 3.1 miles along the North Shore’s Riverfront Trail in support of pulmonary hypertension (PH) research and the UPMC cycling foursome who will race 3,000 miles cross-country to raise awareness and donations for the oft misdiagnosed and misunderstood disease.

“This is an awesome day – it’s the largest event ever held in Pittsburgh for PH,” Patty George, M.D., UPMC pulmonologist and captain of Team PHenomenal Hope, told the crowd after the race.

There were sizeable groups wearing red T-shirts (“Slippery Rock PHights for a Cure”) and purple T-shirts (“Anna’s Army”), the latter for an 11-year-old Monroeville girl who saw a television story about Team PH Hope and became both a friend and a donor. 

“It all came together the last three weeks,” Jay Lindner said of the Army of nearly 40 friends and family who gathered on the North Shore Sunday for Anna.

And there were another 25 folks or so who dressed in zebra-striped socks and leggings. That’s a variation of the national PH Association’s campaign about identifying the disease faced by potentially 100,000 Americans. Just as a zebra looks like a painted horse, often PH (high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs) is mistaken for asthma or another condition less serious than PH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced research findings where deaths from PH are on the rise.

“Anything we can do,” said Nicole Stafford of Warren, Ohio, a mother of two and the ringleader of the zebra-striped crew that she teasingly called her “cult.” Stafford thought she was symptom-free and in the clear after surgery for a congenital heart defect while in third grade, then went on to become an occupational therapist and the mother of a son, now 7. When she had her daughter a little over two years ago, her condition was exacerbated and she learned she had PH. 

“Apparently with PH, you shouldn’t have kids. They didn’t tell me that,” Stafford added. “Suddenly, I was back in the hospital. Class 4,” meaning PH symptoms occur even at rest.

Patients such as the elementary-schooler Lindner and the mother Stafford are gratified by the national efforts of Team PHenomenal Hope, in support of whom the national Pulmonary Hypertension Association staged a PHenomenal Mile in 30-plus states as part of their Race of Our Lives campaign for the cycling team’s mid-June Race Across America adventure.

“They’re PHenomenal,” Stafford said. “They’re amazing. I’m excited.”

As for the more than $10,000 raised from Sunday’s race and walk for PHA, not to mention the patients taking part in Pittsburgh’s version of a PHenomenal Mile-plus, organizer Julia Feitner, of Baden, called it a resounding success for an inaugural effort.

“As a patient, it is easy to feel isolated. So it means so much to have all of these people here,” said Feitner, the mother of two young sons. “I’m absolutely ecstatic for a first time race and walk.  To have Pittsburgh showing this kind of support for us is just fantastic.”