Heights terrify Amanda Buechel, so she’s mentally preparing for that first step off the top of a 27-story building – backwards – to rappel 278-feet down a Chicago skyscraper, all in the name of her grandmother Andrea Buechel of Minooka, and her father, Jeff Buechel of Joliet.
“I am so scared,” Buechel, 21, of Joliet, said with a laugh. “I’ve only rock-climbed indoors once. That’s the extent of my experience.”
On May 4, Buechel will participate in Skyline Plunge! Chicago, which the Chicago-based Respiratory Health Association hosts to raise awareness and funds for lung disease research, advocacy and education.
During the event, 80 participants will rappel down the lightning bolt side of the Wit Hotel at State and Lake streets in Chicago. Buechel is plunging for her grandmother, and her father.
Both suffer from asthma and her grandmother Andrea also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Buechel’s grandmother will travel from Minooka to attend the plunge, watching her granddaughter jump for the cause.
“She’s proud and nervous at the same time,” Buechel said. “She just wants me to get down on the ground.”
According to www.mayoclinic.org, COPD is a group of diseases that obstruct airflow and impede breathing. Two common conditions are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Lungs may become irreversibly damaged. Treatment controls symptoms and reduces further damage.
For 10 years, Buechel has watched her grandmother struggle with breathing difficulty. Andrea can no longer walk very far without getting out of breath.
“It’s hard watching her go through that,” she said. “If there was a way to take it away, I would do it in a heartbeat. This [Skyline Plunge] is the closest I can come.”
From an early age, Buechel’s father has had asthma, she said. This motivated Buechel to become a nursing student at the University of Saint Francis in Joliet. Buechel’s goal is to help prevent lung diseases, as well as find new treatments for them.
One of Buechel’s biggest concerns, she said, is air pollution, especially the quality of air in the Chicago area. Buechel said her father mostly notices it when he visits Florida.
“His lungs are worse here,” she said. “They’re 10 times better in Florida.”
According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013 report, the Chicago area ranked among the top 20 worst-polluted cities for short-term particle pollution. Particle pollution can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks.
Furthermore, the American Lung Association website states particle pollution also is linked to strokes, cancer, deaths in children and infants, reproductive and developmental harm, inflammation of lung tissue, reduced lung volume in young and healthy adults and increased hospitalization for asthma attacks.
Particle pollution consists of the tiny particles from car and truck exhaust, power plants, factories that burn fossil fuels, steel mills, mining operations, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, and even construction, agriculture and even dust storms, the ALA website also said.
Some of these pollution particles are so small, the ALA website said, they’re visible only with an electron microscope.
“The smaller they are, the more dangerous they are,” said Brian Urbaszewski, spokesman for the Chicago Respiratory Health Association.
Here’s why: The human bodies is designed to cough or sneeze out large particles but smaller ones can become trapped in the lungs. Others may even enter the blood stream, causing wheezing, cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks, the ALA website said.
Any money Buechel raises as part of Skyline Plunge! Chicago will benefit the Chicago-based Respiratory Health Association and help the organization address air quality issues, asthma, COPD and lung cancer, as well as research, education and advocacy for tobacco control.
“You don’t have to be a doctor to help people who have lung disease,” Buechel said. “Even a dollar can help.”
Through May 16, make donations in Buechel’s name at www.skylineplunge.org. For information about air quality in general and for pollution forecasts, visit Partners for Clean Air at www.cleantheair.org.