Mary Jo Byrne was a dedicated mother, wife, and grandmother. Described as “strict but passionate,” all four of her daughters very much knew they were loved while growing up. Mary Jo was a symbol of strength in her family and instilled in her children the value of hard work. She lived with COPD for 20 years. Her family described COPD as “cruel and debilitating,” but she never complained.
“My mother and father had been married for 52 years when she passed away. Mother had known that she had COPD for years, but we did not realize how bad it actually was because we did not recognize the signs and symptoms,” said her daughter, Cathy Mitchell. “She never let on how serious it was or complained of anything. She was an over-achiever, always active to no end. She wore me out just watching her. We all slowly noticed that she did not have the stamina to walk a very long distance. She loved to shop, but just could not keep up. This was the most frustrating part for her. Then we noticed that she would use inhalers and got to use them more and more frequently. When we would ask her what was wrong she would comment that she had asthma due to her old age, but she was just fine. She refused oxygen until the last year of her life.”
When the Byrne family lost Mary Jo to COPD, they decided to take action to raise awareness and funds. Now, they plan an annual race called the 5K4MJ (5K for Mary Jo), which raises money for individuals who cannot afford rehabilitation and medication. We spoke to Mary Jo’s dedicated family to learn more about their efforts:
Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind your event.
A: Our inspiration is our mother. We want to bring awareness to the public about this silent killer. The struggles that these patients face and hope to find a cure. A portion of the proceeds from the race goes to a scholarship fund that assists patients who can’t afford medication or rehab services. The scholarship fund pays for those services. The scholarship fund is in my mother’s name.
Q: Organizing a race is a lot of work. How do you ensure success?
A: Our family and friends promote, promote, and promote the race. A lot of marketing and networking goes into the planning of the race. We are blessed with a lot of family and friends who are big supporters of the race. We have no payroll, and we shop and get the lowest price on everything we buy. Our biggest expense is the timing company and t-shirts. We also pray a lot!
Q: Describe the challenges in fundraising.
A: It takes a lot of effort and organization. The 5K is the most involved fundraiser so far, but every year it gets easier. We use many volunteers. It takes about 6 months to organize a 5K. The other fundraisers usually don’t take that long. We hope to branch out and have 5K’s in other cities, but it is hard to find sponsors to help finance if you are a stranger in that area. If you would happen to come across someone who wishes to hold a 5K, we would be happy to organize for them.
Q: Who are your supporters?
A: Our supporters are Olathe Medical Center, Shawnee Medical Center, St. Joe Medical Center, many small business and friends that we personally know.
Q: What would you like people unfamiliar with COPD to know about the disease?
A: We have realized that many people think cigarette smoking is the only cause for COPD and that COPD is self inflicting. I would like to get rid of that stigma. And that COPD is a umbrella term for many lung diseases. We would also like to make kids aware that what they put in their lungs today can and will effect them when they are about 60 years old and possibly younger. Vaping and e-cigarettes are very popular with the young kids today. I feel like we are going to have a whole other COPD problem when this generation gets to retirement age.
We applaud the Byrne family for their incredible work with the 5K4MJ, Running with Wings 5K race in honor of their mother. Live in Kansas and want to be involved? Want to plan a 5K in your area? Please visit www.5k4mj.org for more information.
The 2017 5K4MJ will be held at Heritage Park, 16050 Pflumm / Olathe, KS / 66062 on August 26. Registration will start at 7 a.m.
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