Running the London Marathon to give people "new lungs"

Jo's dad died from lung disease. Now she's running the London Marathon to help raise awareness.

For most of his life my dad was a fit and healthy market gardener, growing tomatoes and lettuces on a large scale on our small holding for sale in supermarkets.

He loved being outdoors and the fact he’d made a career from growing things. As children we remember our hardworking dad in his work clothes, welly boots and muddy hands! We had a perfect childhood in the country playing in the fields and making him and mum mud pies for lunch. 

Jo's dad

Dad got a cough 

Then, around the age of 40, dad began to get a cough and slight wheeze. It took several years for him to agree to see the GP. The doctors treated him for asthma for over 10 years. 

He was seen in the regular asthma clinic but the symptoms never improved and looking back now I think we all got used to the fact he had a regular cough so thought little of it. He was over sensitive to certain smells and things like exhaust fumes would really aggravate his chest.  

He might not have asthma 

It was only when the GP saw him in place of the practice nurse and finally referred him to the local respiratory specialist at the hospital that he might not have asthma. He was diagnosed with acute extrinsic allergic alveolitis, or farmer’s lung.

They discovered that he was allergic to the mould and fungus that developed once the tomato plants died down. At the end of each growing season he had been clearing huge greenhouses full of thousands of plants so had been exposed to the cause of his illness for many years. 

Farmer’s lung is irreversible, the damage had been done. His lungs were scarred restricting their capacity, so the only way to slow the progressive nature of the disease down was for him to retire early. 

He tried hard to keep active 

Dad had regular physio and tried hard to remain active, though he couldn’t be so involved with tomato plants he still worked hard to keep an immaculate garden and often helped others with theirs too. Over time his illness began to slowly take over his life, his cough became more frequent and he began struggling to catch his breath.  

He began picking up chest infections more frequently and had the first of many hospital stays requiring oxygen. We knew things were getting more serious when he was forced to cut short one of his much-loved canal boat holidays as the damp air had made him incredibly short of breath.  

Jo with her dad on her wedding day

Day-to-day life became harder 

As the condition got worse, he began needing oxygen at home and day-to-day life became harder. Climbing stairs became impossible and he became dependent on my mum for support.  

But he never once complained. He never lost of his sense of humour. He continued to enjoy spending time with us all as a family especially his grandchildren. 

Just as we were discussing having oxygen plumbed into the house so he could have it more permanently, he was taken into hospital. Two days later, he died. We were all with him, by his bedside. 

We began fundraising 

I once asked him what I could do for him and he said, “I just want new lungs”. After he died, we began fundraising for the BLF as a family. We are determined that more research is done in the hope that these illnesses are detected early and others could get “new lungs”.  

We have a coffee morning every year in mum and dad’s lovely garden which raises around £800 each time. In 2016, I ran the Cambridge Half marathon alongside my niece and nephew as ‘Team Butler’ raising £2,000 between us and I began wondering if I could make a full marathon! Dad loved watching the London Marathon each year on TV and he would never believe I would do such a thing. I’m not the most sporty! 

Now I’m doing the London Marathon 

Jo and her family

I still have to pinch myself that I’m running London this year. Training has been tough, especially through the winter months while also juggling a full-time job and a family life.  I’ve been lucky to have a friend who has run marathons before who has joined me for my training. Without her I would have found the long runs even more tough! 

I’m rewarding myself with chocolate and big bubble baths each time and that seems to get me through! I’m so honoured that I have the chance to be part of Team Breathe as well as Team Butler! I cannot think of a better way to celebrate what an amazing dad I had. 

On days of importance in our lives, first days at school, exams, driving test, new job, he would say “remember you’re a Butler”. So on marathon day more than ever I will be “remembering I’m a Butler”.  

I’m determined to raise awareness 

As a nurse myself, I know that early detection and treatment is the key. I can’t thank the BLF enough for the work they do to ease suffering, support families, campaign for lung health and complete much needed research. 

So this marathon day, not only am I determined to do dad proud but I’m also determined to raise awareness of this debilitating disease and help others get “new lungs”. 


Farmer's lung - find out more


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25 April 2019