Sep. 27, 2023 By Ethan Marshall
New York Yankees legend Bernie Williams joined Far Rockaway residents Cheryl and Vera B. for an on-field ceremony at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 5 to help raise awareness for a rare medical condition, interstitial lung disease (ILD). Cheryl has been battling the disease, with her sister Vera acting as her caregiver.
Cheryl was diagnosed in 2013 with Sarcoidosis, a disease which involves cells clumping together, with the potential to attack any organ within the body. It is most common within the lymph nodes and lungs.
“[Vera] has been like a rock. She’s been my support whenever I feel like I need someone to talk to, because she knows more about my illness than anyone,” Cheryl said. “When I need somebody to vent to, she’s there for me. She’s been a great person to be there.”
For Williams, raising awareness for ILD hits close to home. His father was diagnosed with the disease and the younger Williams acted as his caregiver until he passed away from ILD in 2001.
Williams uses his platform to spread awareness of ILD through a program by Boehringer Ingelheim called Tune In To Lung Health. The program’s resources include an educational video series featuring Williams, Cheryl and Vera, with each sharing ILD’s impact on their lives from both the patient and caregiver perspectives. Part of the series was broadcast on the jumbotron to fans at Yankee Stadium, where the three stood united on the field for a cause close to each of their hearts.
According to Cheryl and Vera, it was through their partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim that they started working with Williams’ Tune In To Lung Health. They spoke highly of the work he has been doing to raise awareness for ILD and assist those suffering from it.
ILD is an umbrella term for more than 200 rare and serious conditions that can scar the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. It can cause those suffering from it to feel breathless even when attempting to do daily activities like climbing the stairs or taking a walk.
Because ILD can be progressive and worsen over time, early detection is crucial. However, many disease symptoms – like breathlessness, a persistent cough or fatigue – are often confused for other more common conditions, meaning diagnosis can take years while the disease worsens. There are 250,000 Americans currently living with ILD.
“There’s a lot of people who have this issue and they don’t know where to turn to,” Vera said. “I feel if we can get [awareness] out there more, like on social media, those dealing with it can figure out where they can go and get the help they need. The support [from caregivers] is great.”
Cheryl said she’s hopeful that Tune In To Lung Health can reach people with ILD all around the world. “So many people don’t know the breathing exercises or about having a good caregiver or support system,” Cheryl said. “This program can help with all of that.”
It took nearly five years for Williams’ father to be diagnosed with the the ILD idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. All the while, his health declined.
“Since my father’s passing, I committed myself to raising awareness for interstitial lung disease,” Williams said. “I’ve had the honor of meeting many people who have been impacted by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other forms of interstitial lung disease, including patients and caregivers. Hearing these stories has allowed me to spread much-needed awareness for this rare disease and, on a personal level, has helped me heal.”
“[Raising awareness of ILD] is very important to me because I have a community of people who have ILD and they went through not getting diagnosed right away,” Cheryl said. “They had certain symptoms and went to the doctor, who misdiagnosed them. Just to advocate for them and help and guide them, it means a lot. If I could help just one person, I’d be happy.”
To learn more about ILD, visit Lungs&You.com.