Their friendship was fueled by a love of cycling. Now, four Pittsburgh women are coming together to raise awareness of a debilitating condition that keeps most sufferers off a bike.
Patricia George, M.D., a UPMC pulmonologist and Regent Square resident, along with three teammates, have formed Team PHenomenal Hope with support from UPMC and the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) to raise awareness of pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs that can leave sufferers short of breath, dizzy, tired and, in some cases, in need of a lung transplant. In 2014, the team will cross 12 states in a continuous eight-day trek from California to Maryland known as the Race Across America to spread the word and raise funds for the PHA.
The other racing team members are cyclists Stacie Truszkowski, an administrative assistant in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh; and Anne-Marie Alderson and Ryanne Palermo. The team will be assisted on the journey by a 10-person crew and supported along the way by PHA members who have battled pulmonary hypertension.
“It’s our goal not only that they cheer for us but that they, too, are a part of this team. We are motivated by their stories and by their race against pulmonary hypertension. We hope to honor them ultimately in our race,” said Dr. George, who helped to officially announce the team at the PHA meeting of health professionals and patients in Orlando, Fla., on June 22. “Together we have a chance to do something really amazing.”
Pulmonary hypertension can be caused by a variety of conditions, including autoimmune diseases like scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis, lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, HIV, and even some medicines. However, in many cases the cause is unknown. It affects people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds. Patients with progressive pulmonary hypertension often experience heart failure.
UPMC’s Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program is unique because cardiologists and pulmonologists work together to provide a truly multidisciplinary model of care. The program also provides patients access to a wide range of medical therapies through clinical trials and a world-renowned lung transplant program.
"This will be hard, but it's nothing compared to what our patients have to deal with," George said.
The PHA is a national organization committed to finding treatments and a cure for pulmonary hypertension through research, education, support, patient advocacy and awareness. Founded in 1990, the group now has more than 10,000 members.
Members of Team PHenomenal Hope will begin training this fall for the race, which will take place in June 2014. Race Across America includes teams of cyclists who compete and raise money for their charity of choice. The race course is 30 percent longer than the annual Tour de France.
“All of the members of our team are avid cyclists who often compete. But this race will provide the biggest challenge any of us have ever faced on two wheels,” Dr. George said. “But this is really about more than four cyclists. It’s about us, the PHA, UPMC and our other sponsors and supporters, the patients, their friends and our families, all working together to raise awareness and find a cure for pulmonary hypertension.”
More info on the team:
- Patricia George M.D., team manager and racer, is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She works in the Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Clinic, taking care of patients before and after lung transplantation. She also researches pulmonary hypertension, investigating mechanisms of this disease. When not in the lab, she loves race and ride her bike.
- Stacie Truszkowski, racer, is an administrative assistant at UPMC in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine. She works closely with pulmonary hypertension physicians at the university and Vascular Medicine Institute. Outside of work, she has found her love for endurance mountain bike racing, and her accomplishments include 2011 Pennsylvania Women’s Cat 4 State Cyclocross Champion. Her 2012 accomplishments include finishing the Mohican 100km mountain bike race and bicycling to Washington, D.C., and back.
- Anne-Marie Alderson, racer, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. She works as a quality engineering manager at Cook MyoSite Inc. Running since high school and racing triathlons since 2007, Alderson has completed eight marathons and 17 triathlons. In 2010, she became an Ironman finisher, and in 2011 won several races including the Tour of the Valley Road Race and Pittsburgh’s famous Dirty Dozen.
- Ryanne Palermo, racer, is a graduate pharmacy student at Duquesne University and is working to soon defend her Ph.D. thesis in pharmaceutical science. When not in the lab, she is an avid endurance mountain bike racer, who conquered more than 100 miles and 24,000 vertical feet of climbing in one day of a self-supported Trans-North Georgia ride. She also was the 2011 Solo Women's Champion of the Leesburg Baker's Dozen 13-hour mountain bike race. Most recently she organized a Pittsburgh-Washington, D.C., round-trip bicycle trek, in which she helped women of varying cycling abilities train for and then ride the approximately 700 miles.
- Kate Bennett, crew chief, is a Montana State and University of Pittsburgh graduate and administrative coordinator at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute in Information Technology and Security. On the bike, she is known as a sprinter, winning the Women’s Cat 4 Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association Criterium series in 2012. On the team, she is also known as the “glue” possessing the attention to detail, dedication and intangible qualities essential to getting the team across the finish line.
- Jennifer Keeley, C.R.N.P., D.N.P., crew member and PHA liaison, is a nurse practitioner in the UPMC Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Clinic. She is past president of the ARMS Outreach Program, one of Pittsburgh’s Fifty Finest and is active in the CF Foundation. She brings extensive experience in patient care, organizational logistics, and fundraising/raising awareness, as well as invaluable enthusiasm and organizational skills to the team.