Imagine climbing the Carew Tower after double lung transplant

Fight for Air Climb is annual fundraiser
Posted at 6:04 PM, Feb 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-09 10:50:16-05

CINCINNATI -- Imagine climbing 45 flights of the Carew Tower breathing with lungs that aren't yours.

Stephen Mitchell will be climbing all 804 steps Sunday during the Fight for Air Climb, a signature fundraiser for the American Lung Association.

That he's still alive to do it is a miracle, he said.

Five years ago, Mitchell was losing a battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

"I was a runner, non-smoker. I kind of diagnosed it myself because I could tell a difference in my breathing," he said.

Mitchell said his father died of lung disease, which is the reason he took up running. At the worst of his disease, Mitchell needed about 40 liters of oxygen a day.

"People don't know what it's like to fight for air," he said. "There's nothing worse than not being able to get up off this couch, to have your wife wheel you to the bathroom to just be able to stand up and sit down."

Then in 2012, Mitchell got two new lungs; they came from a 23-year-old woman in South Carolina. He had a double lung transplant Aug. 23 and 24 at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Mitchell and his surgeon, Dr. Thomas Wozniak, at a Bengals-Browns game in 2013. Mitchell had Bengals season tickets, and Wozniak used to joke that he had it worse because he's a Browns fan. The game was Mitchell's Christmas gift to the doctor. (Photo provided)

Mitchell climbed Carew two years later. And the next year, the day of the climb, he became a grandfather.

"Nobody was going to let me give up, I wasn't going to give up. I kept my spirit, and that's what I'm going to continue to do. Keep fighting -- fight for air," he said.

For Delhi Township firefighters, training for the climb starts about eight months beforehand. Chris Hautman said it's been a yearly commitment for the past four years.

They do the climb wearing 40 pounds of gear.

"My first year, I thought you know this is going to be nothing, but nope. It's completely different than what you're expectation is, completely different," Hautman said.

Firefighters climb their training tower to get ready -- it's a "high intensity, high intensity, short duration" regiment, Lt. Dan Albertz said. But even that can't really prepare them to get up all 45 flights in one shot.

Albertz is a team leader. His firefighters have been fastest for all four years.

"We really don't know what we're getting into as far as who's going to come each year," he said. "But you know, we'd like to raise more awareness for this event -- it's a great cause, it is a lot of fun. It's painful, but it's only temporary."

How you can help

The fundraiser is about halfway toward its $180,000 goal.

If you think you can take on the firefighters, or want to support the cause, visit the American Lung Association website