By Jerome Sullivan, PhD, RRT, FAARC
Members of the International Council for Respiratory Care (ICRC) and colleagues in many countries around the world have come together to pay tribute to life of John W. Walsh. John passed away on March 7 at the age of 68 following complications of a brain injury suffered in a fall last year.
John worked tirelessly for the better part of three decades to enhance patient care, raise public awareness, and help find a cure for the various forms of respiratory disease known as COPD. He himself was diagnosed with a genetic form of COPD called alpha-1 antitrypsin disease. The disease took his mother at an early age, affected his sister and his twin brother, and undoubtedly inspired his passion to prepare COPD patients to actively advocate for improvements in their own health care.
In 2004, he became the founder of the COPD Foundation and was ultimately honored with the title of director emeritus. This organization provides a multifaceted venue for the intersection of interests dedicated to patient advocacy, public awareness, education, research, and funding to help find a cure for COPD. The special nature of the COPD Foundation has made possible the establishment of unique partnerships between patients, families, health care providers, and the health care industry, resulting in great improvements in the way we care for patients.
John was a true friend of the respiratory care profession and of all those clinicians and researchers working to better treatment access, support patients with pulmonary disease, and ultimately find a cure for COPD. He was constantly reaching out to spread his message and emphasize the global nature of COPD, which affects more than 300 million people around the world and 15-25 million Americans.
In June of 2014 John contributed to the ICRC Newsletter, and in his own words alerted readers to the need for “a global collaboration to raise awareness about the global epidemic of COPD and to create a powerful action plan to combat the devastating effects of this disease worldwide.”
Always an individual of action, and towards the effort to develop a powerful global action plan, John informed our readers that the COPD Foundation was in the process of incorporating Fundación EPOC as a nonprofit organization in Spain. He explained that Fundación EPOC would facilitate collaborative efforts by convening a series of global patient summits with the goal of addressing COPD worldwide. Further, he noted that Fundación EPOC would be critical in the COPD Biomarkers Qualification Consortium’s efforts to submit biomarker qualification packages to the European Medicines Agency.
John Walsh was a visionary and a source of inspiration to many of us. Through his leadership, the COPD Foundation has established itself as a catalyst for the better, a catalyst to bring about real progress in the treatment and support of those afflicted with COPD. His work is a testament to the fact that patients can be proactive partners in their own health care. He will be sorely missed.