Jerry Lewis Raises $60.5 Million for Muscular Dystrophy Despite Own Health Issues

Actor, comedian, and humanitarian, Jerry Lewis held his 44th Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon this Labor Day weekend, and earned over $60.5 million for the organization. Lewis shared hosting duties for the 21-1/2  hour event as he fought his own battle with a debilitating disease, pulmonary fibrosis. He was diagnosed in May 2001 when he began to complain of shortness of breath. He is being treated the steroid prednisone, which caused him to gain over 50 lbs but has slowed the progression of his disease. A number of other celebrities have also suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, including actors Marlon Brando, James Doohan (“Scotty” from Star Trek), Gordon Jump (station manager, “Arthur Carlson” in WRKP in Cincinati) and singers Robert Goulet and Odetta.

The Respiratory System:


Figure A shows the location of the respiratory
structures in the body. Figure B is an enlarged image of airways,
alveoli, and the capillaries. Figure C shows the location of gas
exchange between the capillaries and alveoli. (Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

The function of the respiratory system (otherwise known as the pulmonary system) is to bring oxygen from the air into the blood stream and to release carbon dioxide (a product of the body’s metabolism) back into the air. Air drawn into the lungs is drawn into smaller and smaller airway tubes to the smallest units called alveoli. These tiny bubble-shaped sacs are very thin and are surrounded by the smallest blood vessels, called capillaries. This intimate relationship allows oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide(CO2) gasses to pass freely back and forth from the airways to the blood system.

Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a disease where inflammation in the lungs causes thickening and scarring (fibrosis) of the delicate lung tissue. This lung tissue is no longer able to exchange oxygen. The primary symptoms are shortness of breath and dry, hacking cough, although with time, fatigue, weight loss, and rapid shallow breathing may appear. Although some causes of PF are known- environment exposure to silica and metal dusts, cigarette smoking, certain viral infections and chemotherapy drugs- most cases have no obvious cause and are called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). IPF is a progressive, irreversible disease, although there are some treatment modalities that can slow progression or improve symptoms. These include anti-inflammatory drugs such as prednisone, oxygen therapy (periods of continuous oxygen use by nasal prongs or mask), pulmonary therapy (exercises to increase stamina) and in some cases, lung transplantation.


For more information:

Pulmonary Fibrosis


Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

1 Comment

  1. Renee Stern

    December 6, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    One must be extremely careful, when taking high-dose corticosteroids. Treating any disease with high-dose corticosteroids is a double-sword treatment. High-dose Prednisone (Decadron, IV Hydrocortisone, etc.) can cause corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis of the vertebral column. When this occurs, multiple vertebra collapse, thereby causing a severe kyphosis of the spinal column. When this occurs, the tips of the lungs become fibrous. Eventually by treating fibrosis of the lungs with high-dose corticosteroids, one will actually be causing the lungs to become fibrous. All it takes is 35 to 70 mg of daily Prednisone to cause the onset of severe corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis of the vertebral column. There are initial warnings, such as gum disease (requiring surgery to clean out the jawbone)and diabetes. There are pulmonary treatments at the first-tier academic university teaching hospitals for the condition of lung fibrosis, which may be just as effective or more so than the employment of high-dose corticosteroids. Once a patient (and not a “consumer”) experiences the moon face, the side effect of the corticosteroids are becoming one-hundred percent. Eventually the corticosteroids will become ineffective, where all of the side effects become one-hundred percent. Corticosteroids are not a cure or a viable treatment in the long-run. Just ask any seasoned lupus patient. If the disease doesn’t kill you, the corticosteroids will. I would strongly urge anyone on high-dose corticosteroids to also receive treatments of IV Aredia (at least 60 mg, depending on one’s weight) each month. The Forteo is much too dangerous with horrific side effects. Most patients will eventually experience horrific side effects from the employment of Forteo, including but not limited to bone cancer. Forteo is a lousy alternative to the Pamidronate drugs. If the choice is reduced to dead jawbone disease (avascular necrosis of the jawbone) and cancer of all the body’s bones, I would choose the severe chronic jawbone disease (which can be treated with maxillofacial and oral surgeries). Whenever becoming severely and catastrophically ill, always remember that moving keeps one alive. Once a patient (not a “consumer”) stops moving, they die.

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