Former New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams is partnering with Boehringer Ingelheim to raise awareness of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease his father lived with for many years before his death in 2001.
Williams is teaming up with the Breathless campaign (BreathlessIPF.com), which seeks to inform and prompt people who think they may have the disease to get a checkup — and diagnosis — so that treatment, if needed, could begin early. The campaign’s website features videos and other educational resources that can be shared through Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.
“Whether I was in centerfield or at bat, my dad was always my biggest fan. He seemed invincible. So when he was finally diagnosed with IPF after battling symptoms like breathlessness and a debilitating cough that persisted for many months, it was devastating to me and my family,” Williams said in a news release. “Sharing my dad’s story is so important because it will help others get the answers they need sooner and easier.”
IPF is a progressive lung disease whose cause is unknown. Alveoli and lung tissue close to it become thick and scarred, hindering oxygen transfer between the lungs and bloodstream. The scar tissue that’s generated is known as fibrosis.
Characterized by a shortness of breath that gradually worsen, other symptoms of IPF include a dry and persistent cough, chest discomfort, weakness and fatigue. Respiratory failure is the main cause of death associated with IPF.
The symptoms of IPF are often similar to, and confused with, those of other lung diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure.
“Boehringer Ingelheim is proud to partner with baseball legend Bernie Williams, who can speak personally about how IPF affected his dad and his family,” said Al Masucci, vice president of the company’s IPF business unit. “Through the Breathless campaign, we hope to educate people to recognize the signs of the disease and take action to see a doctor as early as possible. It is important that a correct medical diagnosis is determined, as IPF is often misdiagnosed.”
Patients with IPF are normally treated with supplemental oxygen, cough management and pulmonary rehabilitation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first two drugs specifically directed at the treatment of IPF in 2014: Ofev (nintedanib), from Boehringer Ingelheim, and Esbriet (pirfenidone), from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.
Although IPF is considered a rare disease, 132,000 people in the United States have it, and about 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with it every year.