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Friday, February 6, 2015

Living With A Rare Disease

By Kiara Tatum

Another year has come, and Rare Disease Day is on Saturday, February 28.  And the facts still remain that there are 30,000 PHighters living with PH in the United States, and I'm one of those PHighters. I know that there are others all around that are living with PH and other rare diseases, and we need to spread the word about PH.  There are many ways to get involved and share your story.

"Rare Disease Day was first observed in Europe in 2008.  It was established by the European Rare Disease Organization (EURODIS).  In 2009, EURODIS asked NORD (National Organization of Rare Diseases to be its partner in this initiative and to sponsor Rare Disease Day in the United States.... In 2014, more than 80 countries participated and, through social media, the awareness, and participation has an even broader reach.  Each year, Rare Disease Day is observed on the last day of February.  The goal is to draw attention to rare diseases as an important public health issue that cannot be ignored." History of Rare Disease Day

Having a rare disease can be a very lonely and scary place where you feel no one understands what you're going through and you don't know what your day will be like.  It doesn't only affect the person with the disease, but it affects their family and friends.  I was diagnosed with PH in March, 2006, and I have been PHighting ever since that day.  But I didn't do it alone.  I have my family there to support me and care for me when I can't care for myself.  I have PHriends that I can call upon for support and understanding.  I have my friends that remind me of who I was before I had PH and that I'm still that girl.  So this Rare Disease Day, I'm going to celebrate, share my story, and bring awareness of PH to the community via social network.

PHA participates in Rare Disease Day.  Will you join us? Find out what you can do to get involved.  Let's share our stories, let's bring PH awareness to all around the world this year for Rare Disease Day. Rare Disease Day 2015 - PH

Friday, December 5, 2014

GenHope Spotlight: Syrena Arevalo

By: Tadesse Wondwosen, PHA Intern
The younger generation of PH patients continue to overcome hurdles and make strides towards improving their lives with PH. Syrena Arevalo shares her story on embracing her PH and using what motives her as fuel.
PHA: Please state your name and where you’re from? 
Syrena Arevalo: "My name is Syrena Arevalo and I'm a proud Tucsonan! I graduated from the University of Arizona in 2013 with a double Bachelor's Degree in History and Mexican American Studies."
PHA: When were you diagnosed with PH?
Syrena: "I was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension in August of 2012 after being rushed to the Emergency Room with Right Side Heart Failure. At the time, I was at the beginning of my senior year in college and had so many plans lined up for the year. But as we all know, we never know what obstacles will be placed in our path. This was a time in my life that I wanted to focus on my career and what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn't ready to focus on the unknown."

PHA: What are some of the challenges (if any) that you face when keeping up with your PH?
Syrena: "When I went back to school, many things changed. Not only did I have to try to focus on my studies I had to be aware of doctor’s appointments, medications, and how my breathing was doing while going from building to building. There were times when I felt like I really wanted to give up my dreams and my studies because it was just so overwhelming. I felt very depressed for a very long time. But there was a part of me that didn't allow myself to give up because I wasn't doing this just for myself but for everyone that was there during the most trying period of my young life."

PHA: I hear that you are an artist and in a music band? Please tell me more about that?

Syrena: "Art and Music has always been a part of my life. I’ve been a musician for about 15 years and play in a local Mariachi group. It has always been a great escape for me and allowed me to express myself while bringing joy to those watching and listening. I have met so many amazing people and have had to opportunity to perform in many great venues. My greatest accomplishment occurred after I was diagnosed. November of 2012, only three months after diagnoses, I entered a vocal competition in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I went toe to toe with so many great performers and singers in the region who attended the Mariachi conference that year. One of them would eventually become my boyfriend. I felt so much support at the competition that it was overwhelming. I had brought with me periwinkle ribbons and info cards with me and those who competed as well as the Mariachis who backed me up were more than willing to wear them. Even though it was a tiny gesture, it meant the world to me. In the end, I won the competition and received a scholarship that would pay for a portion of my last semester of college."

"After my diagnoses, I took a semester off of school to adjust to the side effects and site changes that Remodulin had on me. During this time, I submerged myself in painting. Before this, I would often doodle and take art classes in High school here and there, but nothing really serious. It allowed me to put down on canvas what I was feeling and what I wanted for my future. I became better and better at acrylic painting and recently, I was invited to show my work at a local art show. I'm hoping to do more shows in the future and keep doing it just for fun!"
PHA: Syrena what would you say keeps you motivated in not having your PH define you?
Syrena: "Life motivates me. Why should I let this disease define who I am? There are so many things that I still want to do. To travel, start a family, begin a career. During these last two years, I've had so many people tell me that they are praying for me and my family members, many people I didn't even know. My friends and family have been the greatest cheerleaders that I could have asked for. They have motivated me to keep up with my health even though it can be difficult sometimes. Not giving up is the least I can do for them."
PHA: Lastly, what would your advice be in how the younger generation can live with PH and still be able to live normal lives?
Syrena: "I would be lying if I told you that it's going to be easy because it's not. But we all have to remember that we have PH, but PH doesn't have us. We have such a great support group of amazing young men and women who know just what we are going through within Generation Hope as well as in other communities on the web or in your local communities. Seek them if you have questions or concerns. We are all in this fight together.  Lastly, continue to do what you love to do.  It can make the tough times a little easier."      

Friday, November 7, 2014

PHight for PH......Karate Style!

By Tadesse Wondwosen, PHA Intern

    For our younger generation, living with Pulmonary Hypertension can present many challenges. Learning how to meet those challenges can be a drawn-out process. Faced with the normality of being young and aspiring, the younger PH population must also come to terms with being able to cope and manage their condition as well. We spoke with Shannon O’Donnell, an ambitious teen, as she shares her experience with fighting PH and living life to the fullest.

PHA: Could you please introduce yourself and briefly explain your connection with PH to our readers?

Shannon O' Donnell: "Hi everyone my name is Shannon O’Donnell and I’m a pulmonary hypertension patient. I’m nineteen and I’ve had PH for thirteen years. I’m on the crono five pump for remodulin and also many oral medications and oxygen at night. I’m currently a karate teacher for mentally challenged children and will be competing in my first tournament in two weeks!"

 PHA: From my understanding, you are still in college? What school do you attend and what is your focus?

Shannon: "I attend Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Mass. My major is pediatric radiology and I’m currently in the prerequisite stage of the program."

PHA: Being in college, what are some of the challenges (if any) that you face when keeping up with your PH?

Shannon: "Well I’ve had some issues with some of my professors who don’t always understand why I miss class or leave early, even if I tell them ahead of time."

 PHA: Being away from home, is there still a network of support between your family and friends?

Shannon: "My school doesn’t have dorms so I still have the luxury of living at home with my family who are constantly caring for me. Most of my friends have gone off to further schools; however I still received their love and support as well."

 PHA: Shannon, what would you say keeps you motivated in not having your PH define you?

Shannon: "Darren Criss (Blaine from glee) has this saying “There is nothing more bad-ass than being yourself.” And there’s also a lyric from Demi Lovato’s song Fire Starter, “I'm a bad-ass jumping off the moving train I'm a Jane Bond, putting all them guys to shame I'm a wild card, and I'm gonna steal your game you better watch out.” I do what I want and listen to what my body tells me. I just try to be myself no matter what." 
PHA: And lastly- what would your advice be in how the younger generation can live with PH and still be able to live normal lives?

Shannon: "Listen to your body and live how you want while still respecting your parents. And it’s okay to be the smartest person in science class. Go to junior and senior prom don’t let PH run your live because you have one life to live so let it go and have fun."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Generation Hope #StillPHighting

by Generation Hope Advisory Board

November is a PH Awareness month, and many of you have been wearing awareness bracelets, t-shirts and hats, posting selfies, changing profile pics and names, and other things to bring awareness to PH. But we're still "PHighting", and we can't do it alone. We need help from Congress to join us in the "PHight".

Thursday, November 13th is National PH Advocacy Day. PH Association is hosting a Congressional Luncheon; however, if you're unable to attend, you can still get involved. Create a selfie-video and share it. Email your video to, and it will be posted to the PHA's YouTube Channel. Share the video with your family and friends and encourage them to make their own videos. And don't forget to add #PHAware when you post your video.

Then on November 13, post your selfie-video to your senators' and representatives' Facebook pages. Check out the video that Generation Hope Advisory Board created:

For more details and a guided script for your selfie-video visit

Monday, October 27, 2014

What's A Life Coach?

By Elisa Lipnick

Sometimes we can use a little extra help in our lives, especially when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness. Need help with finding what's next for you in life, defining your goals, getting a job, etc., a life coach can help you.

The definition of coaching per the International Coach Federation:
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach's responsibility is to:
        Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
        Encourage client self-discovery
        Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
        Hold the client responsible and accountable
This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.

FAQ’s for me as a Life & Wellness Coach:
What is coaching? Coaching is a partnership between coach and client. Through creative process, the coach will assist the client in getting from where they are to where they would like to be.
How is coaching beneficial? Coaching is beneficial for many reasons. Clients see many different benefits. Personal development is one of the biggest benefits. Clients go through the coaching process and discover many personal opportunities and aha moments.
Where do you meet your clients? I meet me clients be phone. We have one-hour sessions each week by phone.
Is these homework? Yes, if a client needs certain tools for their growth they will be provided with these tools.
Can I do group coaching? Group coaching is an option. We will have a conference call style coaching session with the clients who are interested I group coaching.
What does the process look like? This is a creative process in which the client has full control of the direction of the coaching. I will check in with the client and make sure we stay on track with what is on the client’s agenda.
Will you give me advice? My job is not to give advice; this is a discovery process for the client.
Is life coaching similar to therapy? No, coaching focuses on the present and how to move forward into your future.
How long does it take? This depends on the client, but most coaching relationships last six months to a year.
What is the client’s responsibility? To call in, be present, and do the work.
How do you chose the right coach? Make sure you find a coach that you feel comfortable with. That is very important. Not every coach will work for every person.
Is there a time commitment? One hour a week every week.
Here is a review from a former client Erica Cenci:
Working with Elisa really helped me gain a better understanding of myself. Through our various sessions, Elisa made me feel safe, and allowed me the opportunity to open up and be completely honest with inner-self — something I have struggled with in the past. Her questions were thought provoking and brought me to a place of greater awareness and peace. Through her coaching, I was challenged and stretched to new levels, moving me closer toward my goals and desires in life. I would recommend Elisa to anyone looking to get greater clarity, understanding and movement toward their goals in life.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Long Road to Her

By Colleen Brunetti

This blog is probably one of the most raw things I have written to date. It contains thoughts and experiences I had previously chosen to keep private (in fact much of it was written a year ago and never published) - odd for someone like me who has otherwise made a decision to live this diagnosis out loud in an attempt to change its course. But now is the time to share. My prayer for you if you are living some of these same struggles is that you find some hope in our story.

My journey to her began at age 19. It was the year I took the job as a nanny for a little girl newly adopted from China. I clearly remember rocking her to sleep in my arms, gazing down at that gorgeous perfect little face, and having the wind sucked out of me. What if her parents had not cared enough to go and get her? What if she had stayed in a Chinese orphanage? What hell of a life would she have lived? And here she was, safe in their home, safe in my arms, the world at her feet. I vowed then that I too would make the difference in a little life, and adopt.

I knew the child I got would be a girl... Altruistically speaking, girls have a pretty tough time in much of the world and I wanted to make a difference for one. Totally selfishly, I wanted to raise a ballet dancer, like me, someone to share that with (for as long as she would tolerate it before asserting independence, of course!)

Eight years ago I had another brush with adoption that only further solidified these feelings. I was teaching special education and I had twin girls from India on my case load. They were the result of a botched late-term abortion and had survived, eventually being adopted by an American couple. Again, I found myself looking at them and thinking, "What if..."

Fast forward many years, and I have an incredible biological son. A son who is my own miracle - as we now know I shouldn't have survived the pregnancy because I probably had PH already, and we just didn't know it.

When you have PH you can't get pregnant. Or, at least, you really really shouldn't. This is something you're told pretty much upon diagnosis. When I was told, it didn't faze me. My son was an infant at the time, and pregnancy was not something I was too big of a fan of the first time around. Since I already knew I wanted to adopt, I figured that would be our route, and that was totally cool.

Except, for a long time it wasn't our route at all. I was so busy chasing a toddler and trying to get better and trying to be self-employed, and my husband always works so hard, and our lives were just full. Although we batted the idea of adoption around many times, the answer always seemed to be "Not now." And that was fine.

But then a little over a year ago my damn biological clock started ticking...and chiming... and the gong started going off... and I couldn't make it stop. I wanted that baby.

After long heart-to-hearts with my husband, it was clear he just wasn't ready for adoption. And I couldn't blame him. It's not like other times when we've disagreed and my nose is all out of joint because he doesn't see it my way (come on, you know you all get like that). This time, he had real fears about the future. How the financial burden of supporting our family is by and large on him.  And worse, he had fears about being a single parent some day, if PH took the ultimate toll. These aren't fears we face head on too often. In fact, we never had before. We've chosen to live with the positive and not think that way. But when we're choosing to discuss a very purposeful choice for the long-term future, and involve the life of a child, we kind of have to wrestle with that dark side too.

For the sake of my marriage, I vowed to force this clock away. MAKE it go away. Focus on my son - whom I love and adore and is so so so enough in all possible ways. Basically, I tried to beat my biology. And pretend I was winning. And I did okay... for a while.

Then in the spring of 2013 I attended a dance recital. And I sat there and looked at the moms around me smiling with so much pride for their daughters on stage and I just lost it. I sat in the dark auditorium and cried silently. That should have been me. PH robbed that from me.

The grief followed me in the months ahead, although I tried to keep it in. Baby showers were torture. My sister got pregnant and I cried my way through shopping for the niece whose arrival I was over the moon excited for. And finally it was clear that I was going to have to either get some serious professional help in letting this all go, or re-visit the decision.

I tentatively broached the topic with my husband. And... he said yes. Why the timing is right now, I just don't know (neither does he). But my health is stable (thriving, even), all of my doctors are 100% in support of this decision, my business is growing, things have changed... and now we're ready as a couple and as a family.

Then it was just down to deciding on how to get her. International adoption held little draw now. I wasn't that interested in having to travel overseas with PH to go and collect her. Domestic adoption sure sounded good, but the tens of thousands of dollars it costs seriously deterred us. Surrogacy was also on the table... but I ended up deciding that if we really were going to do this, I needed to stay true to my original intent all those years ago and help a child in need.

And so, we were left with the foster system. We have chosen to adopt through social services and take a child whose parents can not care for her. It does not escape me that for us to get our daughter, someone else will loose theirs.

This path is scary. In fact, I should probably be much more jittery about it than I am. The child may come to us drug exposed, abused, neglected... who knows. We could be placed with a child, only to have the arrangement fall through because the system deems reunification with the birth family or extended family is better. But the truth is, the road to her has been so very long, sometimes so very hard, and now is the time.

It is going to be fine.

I have total peace about it. A peace that surpasses understanding, and I'm pretty content with that.

We're almost done with all of our DCF licensure requirements.

Now, all we have to do is wait for her.

The Long Road to Her was originally posted on Colleen's blog on July 2.  Follow Colleen's blog, PH and "The New Normal"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Am Not My Disease!

By Kiara Tatum

Kiara and niece being silly
I was reading a youth worker journal article, and the topic was identity.  I haven’t seen it yet, but the article was referring to the movie, “Fault in Our Stars.” The movie follows the growing friendship of Hazel, who is diagnosed with cancer, who meets Augustus, also diagnosed with cancer, at a support group meeting.  Augustus asks Hazel, “So what’s your story?”  She proceeds to tell him about when she was diagnose with her cancer.  But he interrupts her and says, “No, not your cancer story, but your real story.” 

That statement made me think about how I defined myself since diagnosed with PH eight years ago.  I was someone before I was sick, and I built friendships, had hobbies, and participated in activities that didn’t revolve around PH.  Sometimes we are so focused on our PH diagnosis and that PH journey that we forget that we are much more than that.  How I identify myself is important when sharing my story with others.  Do I start with I was diagnosed with PH in March 2006 after years of knowing that something was wrong with me.  Or do I start with: My name is Kiara, and I like to be silly and have fun.  I love to watch the ID Channel, sing songs out of nowhere, laugh and smile a lot.  I love the Lord because He loves me and He has brought me through such hard times such as these that I want to show that love to others, so they too will know who the Lord is through my actions which is easier said than done. 

So you see I’m more than just a girl diagnosed with PH at the age of 26 who had to leave her job because she wasn’t able to continue to work.  I’m more than that, and so are you.  You are more than a diagnosis that your doctor gave you, and you are more than this disease that wants to destroy every part of you.  We are PHighters, we are survivors, we are warriors, and we are strong.  And we should not let ourselves be defined by our disease any more. 

I love to listen to music from alternative to country to pop to r&b; I love to laugh and smile; I love to spend time with my family; I’m an aunt, I’m a sister, and I’m a daughter.  I sometimes get mad for no other reason than I woke up that way and will probably stay that way for a few hours; don’t take it personal.  I’m terrified of spiders, and I love to work with youth.  So that’s a little bit about me. So what’s your story? Not your PH story, but your real story?