Editor’s Note: This guest column, by former New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams, is in honor of his father, Bernabé Williams, Sr., who died of complications from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2001.
Williams is a five-time MLB All-Star who played a central role in the Yankees’ winning four World Series Championships. Following his 16-year run as a record-setting slugger and centerfielder, Williams kicked off a second career in jazz guitar – earning a Latin Grammy-nomination for his album, “Moving Forward.” He became an IPF advocate after losing his dad, and partnering with Boehringer Ingelheim to raise awareness of the disease through the Breathless campaign.
Whether I was in centerfield or at bat, my dad always was my biggest fan. As a kid, he would hit me endless fly balls and played catch with me. As is the case for so many sons and daughters of strong dads, my dad always seemed invincible. It wasn’t until he started experiencing breathlessness and disruptive coughing fits — signs we now recognize as symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or “IPF” — that I knew something was wrong.
My dad was reluctant to see a doctor at first. When he finally did go, he had trouble getting the answers he needed and his symptoms continued. Finally, after years of misdiagnoses, my dad saw a doctor who was able to perform the proper tests to accurately diagnose his IPF. By that time, my family and I experienced the sad and painful reality that my dad only had a few more years to live.
We searched for information to make sense of this disease that was not well-known. Unfortunately, at that time, there were no resources available. While my dad battled this disease, I flew back and forth from New York to Puerto Rico to care for him — even missing Yankees games to be by his side as his IPF progressed.
Sadly, in May 2001, my dad passed away at the age of 73. It’s still hard to believe that it’s been that long and not a single day goes by that I don’t think about him. Remembering back to my dad’s struggle with IPF has made me want to share what I learned and experienced through my dad’s battle in hopes it will help others get the right information and answers they need. I like to think that if there had been more awareness about IPF — and better information about the signs and symptoms — my dad may have been diagnosed sooner and we would have had more time together.
In honor of my dad, I’m proud to partner with Boehringer Ingelheim on the Breathless campaign to raise awareness about IPF. The campaign seeks to bring together real people sharing real stories about how IPF has touched and impacted their lives. We hope to educate and empower others who think they may be experiencing symptoms of IPF, including breathlessness and a dry persistent cough, to talk to their doctor and seek early diagnosis and treatment. There’s hope for patients and families affected by this disease.
Even if you don’t have IPF — or think you don’t know anyone who does — you still can help me spread awareness of this devastating disease. Please visit our campaign website, www.BreathlessIPF.com, and share the videos and educational content through your social media channels. You may provide someone with the information they need to take action.
Together, we can make a real difference.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.