Tucson, Ariz. (March 5, 2018) – The regulars who get their steps in early at Sabino Canyon National Park have come to know Eric Simmons, at least by face. Like them, he walks there just about every morning, except the summer months, as the sun is rising, taking advantage of Tucson’s relatively cooler seasons.
What most of the Sabino Canyon crew might be surprised to know, however, is that Simmons is 74 and a survivor of three life-threatening illnesses, including a chronic one that he was diagnosed with three decades ago.
Simmons has pulmonary hypertension (PH), a complex illness that results in the arteries in the lungs becoming damaged, narrowed or stiffened. It forces the right side of the heart to pump extra hard to push blood through to the lungs, often leading to right heart failure and death.
Simmons was in his mid-40’s, a busy, physically fit husband, father of two and sales manager when he began having trouble breathing, especially while exercising. He saw several doctors before even hearing about PH. Symptoms of PH include shortness of breath, fatigue and for some, chest pain. Consequently, people with the disease often go months, sometimes years, believing they have less life-threatening illnesses, such as asthma and COPD.
“Finally, when a pulmonologist diagnosed me with PH, he told me nothing could be done – that I should get my affairs in order and move to a lower altitude area,” he said. “At the time, there were no treatments for PH.”
Loving Colorado and feeling he had nothing to lose, no other choice and a family to support, Simmons stuck it out. He could no longer bike, ski or even golf with ease, but with the help of portable oxygen, he continued working, even flying for work-related assignments.
Prior to learning he had PH, Simmons was diagnosed with and ultimately beat two other deadly diseases – Hodgkin’s disease and prostate cancer. Meantime, he continued to struggle with PH.
During a follow up appointment with his prostate specialist at the University of Colorado, Simmons learned about the hospital’s pulmonary hypertension center, which has since become one of the nation’s first PHA Pulmonary Hypertension Care Center (PHCC)-accredited centers. There, Simmons said he had a Right Heart catheterization screening to measure his heart and lung pressures. While there were still no approved drugs available, he said he also began getting regular specialized care and treatment, which included portable oxygen and an associated heart disease medication.
Simmons retired when he was 59 and, with his wife, moved several years later to their Tucson, Ariz. vacation home. With the help of the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) website, he learned about a PH specialist at the University of Arizona. That’s where a V/Q scan helped confirm that Simmons suffers from a form of PH called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH), which happens when blood clots in the lungs restrict blood flow and increase pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
Simmons began taking two of the first FDA-approved PH treatments. Today, he takes one of the drugs – Adempas – and only needs portable oxygen when he’s sleeping. He is an active member of PHA’s Tucson Support Group, has returned to golfing regularly and has made those Sabino Canyon walks a part of his lifestyle.
“I’m getting up in age now, but I walk four days a week,” Simmons said. “Not to brag, but I walk two miles, without stopping, at a pretty decent pace in 40 minutes.”
At age 74, Simmons has more than beat the odds.
Join Simmons and others at the upcoming Desert Divas and Dudes 2nd Annual Walk for PH scheduled for Saturday, March 10, 2018. The event will take place at Reid Park Ramada #10 in Tucson, Ariz. with registration and breakfast beginning at 8:00 a.m. Walk one or two miles beginning at 9:00 a.m. A raffles and silent auction will follow. Event support funds advocacy, research, empowerment and care programs for people living with PH. The Pulmonary Hypertension Association is the world’s oldest and largest organization in the world that serves people living with pulmonary hypertension. PHA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that serves people with PH, families, caregivers, health care professionals and researchers.
To register, or for more event information, email Kristin at events@PHAssociation.org. Onsite registration is also available at $25 per person. Cash, check and major credit cards will be accepted.
O₂ breathe™ events are supported through a sponsorship provided by our national partners: Actelion Pharmaceuticals US Inc.; Gilead Sciences Inc.; Bayer HealthCare and CVS Specialty.