Most asthma experts would say that no matter how bad your asthma is you should exercise. I can think of no better example of this than Stephen Gaudet, aka Breathin’ Stephen. Despite being a severe, persistent asthmatic, he has qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Stephen, age 54, said he’s been hospitalized 92 times admits, many of those in critical care (his most recent was in Sept. 2008), and 14 times on a ventilator.
“My asthma has gotten progressively worse since the age of 5,” he wrote in an email to me. "My first time on a ventilator was at the age of 16. I had a respiratory arrest in the elevator while being taken to radiology for a chest x-ray. I coded, but it’s unclear if my heart stopped. I did however suffer 2 fractured ribs which leads me to believe that they did compression for one reason or another.
“The second time occurred at the age of 22,” he continued. “I was on the ventilator for over a week. I had really bad [eosinophils], which complicated things. The worst exacerbation I’ve had in recent years was back in 2004. I ended up on a vent and then developed a bacterial pneumonia on top of the asthma.”
Yet, despite his bad lungs, despite these set backs, he understands the importance of exercise and he walks as often as he can. In the “About” section of his blog, BreathinStephen.com, he says:
“Despite being breathless most of the time, I exercise hard and I keep active because it makes me feel good about myself. But mostly I do it… to stay alive It’s a proven fact that physical fitness is beneficial for people with lung disease. I guess in my case, I’ve taken that advice to the extreme! Daily exercise won’t cure you, but it can certainly help you live better and probably longer …I’m living proof.”
As an even greater inspiration to us asthmatics, Stephen walks in marathons. Most recently, on March 20, 2009, he walked in the Rome Marathon (he wrote about his experience here). Up next is the most popular marathon in the world: The Boston Marathon!
There are cash prizes for the quickest to finish the 26-mile ride that takes place the third Monday of April (April 20 this year), but most people run the race for the accomplishment.
“What makes the Boston event so significant,” Stephen said, “is that I will be the first person ever with severe lung disease allowed to compete by being granted ‘mobility impaired’ status.”
His pulmonologist, Dr. Joshua Galanter, wrote a letter to the Boston marathon committee during his application process:
“With such severe obstruction, Mr. Gaudet is consistently breathing at his maximal expiratory flow rates and would have significant difficulty increasing his minute ventilation in response to exertion, which places a substantial challenge on his ability to carry out even normal exertion, making his competition in distance events all the more remarkable. I would not have predicted that he would be able to complete a marathon distance competition with his severe pulmonary impairment but for the fact that he has done so on several occasions. This represents a remarkable accomplishment on his part, one that represents a triumph of perseverance over physical limitations, and one that I hope the Boston Marathon would celebrate by allowing him to compete.”
Stephen, who lives in San Fransisco, had to qualify for this race just like every other participant – by having a qualifying finish time from a previous qualifying race. “The only difference,” he said, “is that they are waiving the 6-hour time limit for me and a couple other people with disabilities.”
However, he remains realistic: “As with every race that I prepare to do, it still remains to be seen if I’ll actually be able to pull it off. As you know, the problem with severe asthma is that it has a mind of its own. You can feel great one minute and be sucking on the end of an ET tube the next.”
So Breathin’ Stephen – the Hard Luck Asthmatic – is currently training for the Boston Marathon. He is truly an inspiration to all us asthmatics, who can no longer say, “I have asthma, so I can’t do that.”
Yes you may have to pace yourself, but with good asthma management you too can be an inspiration. As best you can, keep moving – or at least keep walking.
Breathin Stephen says it best: “As you know, there hasn’t been much written about people with the severe form of this disease. I’m hoping that my taking part in the most prestigious marathon in the world will send a message to other hardcore lungers out there, that anything is possible.”
Good luck Stephen. We’ll be rooting for you.