Jonathan Lehman, kneeling front right, climbing to the top of Alaska's Mount Denali in order to help ramp up public awareness for an air quality initiative he is now mounting in Chattanooga.
By Jennifer Bardoner, Community News Associate Editor
Chattanooga Allergy Clinic is committed to bringing a better quality of life to those suffering from respiratory issues. That’s why they pledged funds to help local resident Jonathan Lehman climb the tallest mountain in North America in order to bring awareness to an air quality public education campaign he is now launching.
“Prior to leaving I told people it doesn’t really matter if I summit or not because people cared enough about what I’m doing to send me,” said Lehman, who recently returned from the grueling trek up Alaska’s Mount Denali. “The No. 1 question everyone asks is, ‘Did you summit?’ I’m so happy I can say yes. As people are beginning to ask that I realize maybe it was necessary to summit for full credibility.”
Whether or not he had succeeded might not have mattered in light of the credibility of the established, board-certified practice of Drs. Marc Cromie, Todd Levin, Hyman Kaplan and Lee Perry, which has offices in East Brainerd, Hixson, Cleveland and Fort Oglethorpe. The public has voted them “best of the Best’ three years in a row.
“We’re very thrilled and excited for his success,” Cromie said. “Once we met him and heard his story we couldn’t help but be a part of it.”
Lehman is mounting a tree education component of his Fight for Air campaign. Registration is now open for public classes that will begin in September.
“what these classes allow is someone who is interested in learning more about trees or tree planting to take that step, get involved, actually get two free trees, go out and plant them and take care of them themselves,” curriculum developer Michael Wurzel said od the Citizen Forestry classes. “It marries education with action, which is one of the cool things about the class.”
Those classes are suitable for high schoolers and up, but he and Lehman are working on developing a curriculum for elementary students that they hope to get integrated into the school system. Normal Park Elementary has already agreed to be the pilot school for the in-the-works fourth- and sixth-grade curriculum.
“Absolutely one thing we can’t do without is quality breathing air, and it’s maybe one of those things we take for granted the most and talk about the least,” Lehman said, noting the air-cleaning qualities trees provide.
Chattanooga ranks No. 3 in the country for pollen, according to Cromie, which can not only exacerbate but also cause respiratory issues. He and the rest of his practice have agreed to set up shop wherever Lehman goes to offer free asthma screenings.
“Asthma is a chronic disease that kills around 4,000 people a year,” said Cromie. “these deaths are, in my opinion, avoidable. A lot of times it’s awareness; people don’t realize that have asthma. We will take on the expense and be the sole allergist to help him increase awareness and diagnosis of asthma and hopefully get treatment to kids and adults who may not even know they have asthma.”
Lehman said he hopes to use events like the recent Dragon Boat Festival, upcoming River Rocks and others quarterly to help spread awareness and education.
As a Chattanooga firefighter and father of an asthmatic child, he knows all too well the importance of having quality breathable air. He also personally knows the effect not having enough of it can have on the body, which was the purpose of his climb up Denali.
“The higher up you go the thinner the air gets, the harder it is to breath. That to me is parallel to respiratory issues,” he said.
He celebrated his 34th birthday while hunkered down on the side of the 20,320-foot-high mountain two days before summiting. The weather had turned bad and the group was forced to wait out the whiteout, which Lehman likened to being inside a ping pong ball.
“The hardest part was just being gone,” he said, despite the fact that it was negative 30 degrees on top the mountain and in the 14 days it took him to reach the top, two people died in similar attempts and one of his traveling partners tore his ACL and had to be evacuated. “Three weeks away from my wide and kids was kind of a bummer. They let me use their phone to call home; it was the best birthday present ever.”