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Thursday, July 19, 2012

My First Time At Conference

By Kiara Tatum


Kimberlee Ford & Kiara Tatum
Despite being diagnosed in March 2006, this was the first year that I felt like I could really go to conference.  I could travel, take a plane and meet my phriends that have supported me through the years.  However, wanting to go wasn’t the problem; there were some challenges that I would have to overcome in order to get to Florida for the PHA International Conference.

Applying for the PHA conference scholarship was the first step and the easiest part of the traveling experience.  I was granted a scholarship; however, I wasn’t prepared for the extra cost.  I thought I was going to have plenty of funds from the scholarship, but the scholarship usage was explained, and I had to come up with more funds.  I thought my family was vacationing with me; however, my mom changed her plans.  I needed 4 LPM of supplement oxygen; however, my local oxygen company only supplied 3 LPM.  I needed oxygen delivery in Florida, but I used a local oxygen company in New York.  So you see all the dilemmas I had to experience, and I hadn't even left for Florida yet.  But even though I had these troubles, I still was determined to get to Florida for the PHA International Conference this year.  With help from my parents with extra money and transportation to the airport, a discussion with my PH specialist about decreasing oxygen levels while in flight, coordination with my local oxygen company with another company in Florida, everything was put into place.  

Kiara Tatum & Colleen Schnell
I was so excited about going to conference, but as the flight date approached, I became scared and anxious.  I had never traveled alone before, and now I was traveling alone, diagnosed with PH, and using supplement oxygen.  What if there was an emergency?  How would I handle it?  What hospital would I go to?  But I was determined to go.  Traveling there was okay if I don’t count almost passing out while waiting for wheelchair assistance to board the plane.  The flight was smooth, and I was able to watch a free movie, “This Means War” with Reese Witherspoon.  Loved that movie!  While sitting in our wheelchairs outside the airport waiting for the super shuttle to Renaissance Hotel, I met a fellow support group leader, which made the ride to the hotel very enjoyable.  Although I had three items confiscated at the Orlando International Airport, the return flight home was even better due to a kind and helpful woman who sat next to me.  

Kiara Tatum, Kimberlee Ford, Kia Allen & Tammy Lewis
When I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel and met up with good friend, Kevin Roberson, I finally felt relief.  My oxygen hadn’t been delivered yet, but I still wanted to go to the Meet-and-Greet and meet my friends.  Then I saw Tammy Lewis, Alex Flipse, and other friends that I had met previously.  Because we had never met in person before, I was very excited about seeing my good friend, Kimberlee Ford.  She and I had been talking for years on the phone.  When I finally saw her face, I had to touch it to make sure she was real.  And I was so excited to meet my other good friend, Kia Allen, who was bringing her husband and son with her.  I met people from PH Family Facebook page and there were so many other people that I got to meet.  But if I list them all, you will stop reading the blog.  It was the best feeling to be surrounded by people who were just like me – diagnosed with PH and full of hope.  It truly felt for the first time I wasn’t alone anymore.  Everyone describes the conference as a family reunion, and it’s so true.  These weren’t just friends; we are family.  

All the sessions I attended were informative, and one in particular was full of laughs.  The women’s only session was a blast.  Even though there were laughs, there were real issues that women of all ages who have PH have to deal with, and I’ve been avoiding relationships because of my illness.  Wearing oxygen tubing isn’t hidable, and I felt like I would be a burden on someone if we started a relationship.  But hearing some of the women’s stories was very inspiring, and I’m ready to start dating.  I also had the opportunity to be part of the speaker panel for the Words for Wellbeing session.  I shared how journaling and now writing for the Generation Hope Blog have helped me and empowered me in my fight against PH.  I was nervous, but everyone said they didn’t see it.  People gave me positive feedback, and they enjoyed the tips I shared about journaling.  

Kevin Roberson & Kiara Tatum
There was so much to do at the conference.  I attended the Support Group leader luncheon, and it was great to see so many leaders from different states and even different countries.  I went to the Generation Hope After Dark event and had a great time hanging out with friends.  I had a fun time visiting the different booths at the exhibits, from the makeup station to the photo booth station.  I may have spent a little too much time at the photo booth trying to get a decent picture.  The fashion show was so entertaining from the co-hosts to the models.  The opening ceremony speeches, the Power of One Dinner speeches, the Journeys Luncheon speeches, Scaling Mountains to Achieve Our Dreams Breakfast speeches were very inspiring and empowering.  There was so much to experience, and I wanted to experience it all.  I made new friends and grew closer to my good friends.  I didn’t get to go to Sea World because of tropical storm Debby; however, I did get to experience Thai food for the time with Joshua Griffis and Colleen Brunetti.  With the money saved, I was also able to buy souvenirs for my family at home.  

Kia Allen, Wendy Bondy, Kylen, and Kiara Tatum
I didn’t just want to go to the PH conference; I needed to go to this conference.  It empowered me and renewed my hope and faith.  I’m still so filled from the conference, and it has been over three weeks since it happened.  If you have never been to a conference, you really should see what you can do to get to the next one. You should talk to your doctor and your family and apply for a PHA conference scholarship.  I can’t wait until 2014 for the next conference; Indianapolis here I come!


  1. Kiara, I am so so glad I got to meet you and talk with you that Saturday morning during breakfast, and at the session we attended! You're such a sweet person! I hope you're able to attend the next conference, and I'm hoping to be able to go as well! Conference was such an AMAZING experience, I truly believe any PHer should go at least once! :)

    1. It was great to talk with you also Colleen, I really enjoyed our talk. And I'm going to try really hard to make it to the next conference. I hope to see ya there!

  2. Awesome blog! I am so happy I got the chance to meet you and others face to face. It was a wonderful event full of education, support, and fun. I hope I will be able to see everyone again in 2014. Great experience :)

  3. Hey there K . . .

    Thanks for sharing your conference experience! I know that these events can be life-changing to all of us. It was fantastic hanging out with you (again!).

    Take care and see you in Indianapolis - if not sooner ;)

  4. Great blog post Kiara !! It was great seeing you again !!