AARC Mourns Loss of American Icon, Hero, and Friend to Respiratory Care

 Published: July 21, 2020

By: Heather Willden


Image of US Flag at half-staff

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) died Friday, July 17 at the age of 80. Turning from activist to lawmaker, Lewis spent his life working to make our lives better.

His dedication to advocating for the rights of minorities started young.

  • He took part as an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963 at the age of 23.
  • In 1964, as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis coordinated efforts to organize voter registration drives during the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
  • On March 7, 1965, Lewis helped lead over 600 peaceful protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. Unfortunately, the marchers were attacked, and the confrontation became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Broadcasts of the senseless violence helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Later in life he transitioned to becoming a lawmaker, serving in Congress for 33 years.

In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Read Lewis’ full biography.)

“U.S. Rep. John Lewis was a staunch supporter of the respiratory care profession and patients with chronic respiratory disease,” said Thomas J. Kallstrom, MBA, RRT, FAARC, AARC chief executive officer. “His legacy and dedication to health and human rights paved the way for growth and change for us all. He will forever be remembered and honored.”

Introducing the Medicare Respiratory Therapist Access Act

During the 113th Congress, Lewis introduced the Medicare Respiratory Therapist Access Act (H.R. 2619). This bill would have allowed respiratory therapists to furnish self-management education and training services to individuals with COPD, Asthma, Pulmonary Hypertension, Pulmonary Fibrosis and Cystic Fibrosis.

Leading the COPD Caucus

Lewis served for several years as co-chair of the Congressional COPD Caucus after first joining when the Caucus was created Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) in 2004. He was also a member of the Cystic Fibrosis Caucus.

The COPD Caucus has been an active participant in promoting the COPD National Action Plan and advocating for Medicare coverage of pulmonary rehabilitation, initiatives advocated by AARC and its members.

The AARC showed its gratitude to Lewis for his contributions to the respiratory care profession by attending recent fundraisers in 2017 and 2019.

Email newsroom@aarc.org with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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