By Catharine Falardeau

Getting involved with the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) has made a huge difference in my life.

I learned about volunteering for PHA at the 2018 International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions. As I was walking around the exhibit hall, someone from PHA with a clipboard was asking people to sign up for volunteer opportunities.

After Conference, I decided to become an Email PHriend, a kind of mentor for people recently diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH).

I knew what it was like to be in their place. In 2012, I started feeling out of breath, and I was coughing constantly. In 2015, I was diagnosed with scleroderma/mixed connective tissue disease. I retired from work because I was so tired all the time.

In 2017, I was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) and interstitial lung disease. I went into a terrible depression as I became my mother’s caretaker. I spent three months in Massachusetts, where I grew up, before finally convincing her to move to Florida, where I’ve lived since 1993. I’m an only child, and I’m still active in my mother’s care. Unfortunately, after her last fall, she was deemed unable to return to her assisted living facility. She’s in a nursing home now.

I’m glad to be able share my trials and tribulations with people who suffer from the same conditions.  Everyone at PHA has been so nice to me, as is everyone in my clinical trial. I feel it’s important to give back. Many years ago, I was in a situation where a very nice lady helped me out. I tried to pay her, but she refused. She told me at the time to just pay it forward.

My depression began to lift after I enrolled in a clinical trial, and my health vastly improved. As 2019 rolled around, I made a New Year’s resolution to change my ways. I started reaching out to old friends and attending family events.

I feel great about my life with my wonderful husband of 26 years and am motivated to help anyone who needs guidance. It’s far more rewarding than the Employee of the Month accolades I used to get when I still could work.

My advice for others going through similar challenges is don’t try to do too much. Focus on the positive things. Visit a therapist. In my case, that really helped me a lot. Pick up a hobby. Take some classes to keep your mind fresh.

If you decide to give back, become a PHA volunteer. Apply here.