Jessica Lazar and a drawing of
             the Path to a Cure
Jessica Lazar, PA-C, with a stick figure drawing of the
Path to a Cure
Learn more about the Path to a Cure

January 29, 2010
Allegheny General Hospital Unity Walk

Pittsburgh Unites with Path to a Cure Climbers
By Jessica McKearin, PHA Special Events Manager and Greg Gershuny, PHA Grants Coordinator

With less than two weeks until PHA’s Path to a Cure Mt. Kilimanjaro climbers (Drs. Benza and Frantz, with Jessica Lazar, PA-C) depart for Africa, our community’s support is in full swing! On January 29, the first of more than one dozen Unity Walk events was held at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH).

Hosted by the Pittsburgh PH Support Group, Dr. Benza, Jessica, and the team at AGH’s Gerald McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute, the symbolic walk raised more than $3,250 toward the climbers’ fundraising goal of $100,000 for PH research and services. To date, the Path to a Cure campaign has raised more than $90,000, thanks to a dollar-for-dollar Path to a Cure Matching Fund sponsored by Actelion.

Patients and caregivers in attendance had the unique opportunity to tour the Institute’s basic science research facilities, participate in a prize and gift basket raffle, and engage in a Q&A session about the upcoming climb with Jessica, who also acts as the Institute’s Director of Quality, Research and Education.

According to Pittsburgh PH Support Group co-leader and Unity Walk co-organizer Merle Reeseman, support group members and others in attendance had the opportunity to learn from Jessica about the challenges the climbers will face on their journey, including strategies for acclimatizing as they trek, altitude sickness, and significantly lowered oxygen levels they will experience at the mountain’s summit.

The Unity Walk also underscored the similarities between the breathlessness Drs. Benza and Frantz and Jessica will experience atop Mount Kilimanjaro, and the everyday experiences of PH patients. A recent widower donated his wife’s lightweight pulse oximeter to the climbers’ cause so that they can document and report their oxygen saturation at the summit to the PH community. Says Jessica of this poignant moment: “There was enough generosity and inspiration in that room to move a mountain … or at least, to climb one.”

After what she describes as an “awesome event and such a very special day,” Merle said that she is so proud of the climbers, as they are not climbing a mountain just for their own patients, but “for all those PH patients in the PH community.”

Merle Reeseman
Merle, who is also a PH patient, shared a first-hand account of her own experiences during the Jan. 29 Unity Walk at Allegheny General Hospital. Read her intriguing thoughts and observations of that day

Read Dr. Benza’s, Dr. Frantz’s and Jessica’s stories of climb preparations

Learn more about the PH community movement behind the climbers’ efforts

Pittsburgh Unity Walk attendees pose for a group photo.
Pittsburgh Unity Walk attendees pose for a group photo.


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The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) awarded PHA the Abbey S. Meyers Leadership Award in 2012 for outstanding service to PHA members in advocacy, education and other key areas.