When she was a child, Sally Szablewiski of Naperville considered Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago her second home.
She and her brother had asthma and were often in the emergency room for treatments. Szablewiski usually shared a room with half a dozen other children; there, she learned just how many people are affected by lung disease.
"I remember sharing the room once with a boy who had cystic fibrosis," Szablewiski said. "A nurse would come in every hour and pat him on the back to break up the mucus. Even then I thought, 'It could be worse. I'm lucky.'"
Even though Szablewiski's asthma was relatively controlled, it still kept her from doing things she loved, such as competing in athletics or having a furry pet.
Due to her early exposure to hospitals, however, she chose to become an emergency room nurse at Edward Hospital in Naperville.
Szablewiski particularly relates to the families who come in with a look of fear because a loved one's respiratory disease is causing difficulty breathing. It's a look she's been familiar with all of her life, not just because of her own asthma, but because of family members also affected by lung disease.
"My father-in-law battled lung cancer and my husband's cousin is living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," Szablewiski said.
"My two daughters also have asthma, but thanks to advances in medicine and an increased understanding of lung disease, they have never felt left out because of it."
As Szablewiski got older, she also was no longer left out of the things she loved.
"I'm not afraid of asthma because I learned what to do to stay one step ahead of it, whether it's use my inhaler or go to the hospital," Szablewiski said over the phone on the way to her workout.
Szablewiski and her daughters have learned to control their asthma effectively, but not all lung diseases can be controlled so easily. Several months ago, Szablewiski was reminded of this when she read her niece's Facebook post.
"It's tough watching your father struggle to take a breath," her niece wrote about her father, who lives with COPD, a respiratory disease commonly associated with chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
The post motivated Szablewiski to get involved with a charity that supports other people living with lung disease. She signed up for Skyline Plunge! Chicago, an urban rappel adventure hosted by Respiratory Health Association.
On Sept. 8, Szablewiski will rappel 27 stories of the Wit Hotel in honor of anyone who's affected by lung disease. More than 85 people will participate in the event, with a fundraising goal of $85,000. Funds raised support Respiratory Health Association's lung disease research and programs.
"Years ago the diagnosis of lung disease such as lung cancer was a death sentence, but it doesn't have to be like that anymore," Szablewiski said. "I thought the Skyline Plunge would be neat to do not just as a thrill-seeker, but as a health care professional, an asthmatic and to honor family members living with lung disease."
Szablewiski's breathtaking rappel also will serve as a testament to how much she's learned since being diagnosed with asthma. Well, that, and the fact that she finally got the pets she always wanted. Two hypoallergenic standard poodles are now part of Szablewiski's family.
For more information about Skyline Plunge! Chicago or to support Szablewiski's fundraising efforts, visit www.lungchicago.org/sally.