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State Rep. Phyllis Pond teaching us still, even in passing

Saturday, September 28, 2013 - 12:01 am

State Rep. Phyllis Pond’s passing may provide another teaching moment in a long life of teaching. This moment would be raising awareness of the disease that took her life.

The passing of Pond this week stirs many feelings and emotions for so many of her constituents, her colleagues in state government and the innumerable New Haven kids whose lives she shaped as a beloved kindergarten teacher over many decades.

I had known her since I was 5 years old, when I became friends with her son, Doug. Phyllis and I were both first elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in the same year.

Once we were sworn in as legislators, I told her I was a little unsure how I should address her since she was both my colleague and someone who had fixed me pancakes when I stayed over at the Ponds’ in elementary school and junior high.

She was a physically active person throughout her life. I thought she was indestructible, really. So her death from pulmonary fibrosis was a cause for learning more about this disease.

Pulmonary fibrosis is not a well-known disease and does not have the same public awareness as many other diseases that are less frequent in occurrence and for which effective treatments have been developed that prolong life.

This week of her passing also happens to be Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis World Week where health organizations around the globe are working to bring greater public awareness to this disease.

Pulmonary fibrosis is an irreversible disease. Progressive scarring of the lung tissues prevents proper oxygen uptake. Each patient takes a different course of decline, but worsening lung function is inevitable. The striking statistics of pulmonary fibrosis: “The median survival time from diagnosis is two to five years, with a five-year survival rate of approximately 20-40 percent, which makes IPF more rapidly lethal than many cancers, including breast, ovarian and colorectal.”

An estimated 40,000 Americans die each year of pulmonary fibrosis. That is as many deaths annually as there are of breast cancer in the United States.

Please take a moment this week to make yourself a bit more aware of this illness. IPF is one type of a constellation of approximately 150 interstitial lung diseases that cause scarring of the lung tissues. Sept. 7 was Global Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Day.

Pulmonary fibrosis can be a hazard of certain occupations – notably farming. Pond’s father and brother, both farmers, also died of pulmonary fibrosis. Continuing research in treatment and in reducing the incidence of pulmonary fibrosis is needed.

This year’s theme for IPF World Week is “Breath of Hope.”

Pond’s whole career – both in teaching and in government – was about extending optimism and hope to kids and constituents.

Mitch Harper, a former state representative, is a member of Fort Wayne City Council.