Board of Directors
Joel J. Africk, JD - Treasurer
Joel Africk is President and Chief Executive Officer of Respiratory Health Association, located in Chicago, Illinois. Joel is a principal advocate for the Association’s programs and policy agenda. Some of the Association’s notable policy achievements include working for passage of smoke-free laws in Chicago, the surrounding suburbs, and Illinois; advocating on behalf of smoke-free multi-unit housing in Chicago and other Illinois communities, and securing passage of important asthma inhaler “right to carry” legislation in Illinois.
Joel is a frequent speaker on lung health topics, including tobacco control, COPD and asthma. In 2010, Joel was appointed to the State of Illinois Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Task Force. In 2012, he was elected to the board of directors of the US COPD Coalition. Prior to assuming his current position, Joel was a partner in the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block, LLP, where he represented clients in a broad range of business litigation matters from 1984-2001. Joel is a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where he received an A.B. in Political Science and passed the Uniform CPA examination.
Valerie Chang, JD - Vice-Chairwoman
Valerie Chang is a retired judge and patient advocate, Executive Director and Founder of the Hawaii COPD Coalition
, founded in 2007. She was diagnosed with idiopathic COPD in 2000. Some of the notable accomplishments of the Hawaii COPD Coalition are strong partnerships throughout the state, including the Hawaii Department of Health Tobacco Prevention and Education Program and others. Annual education days have been held since 2007 as well as monthly support groups, currently at two of the major medical centers. The Coalition has also been active in advocacy, providing the “face” for COPD, helping getting clean air legislation in Hawaii passed, as well as licensure for Hawaii Respiratory Therapists and requiring durable medical equipment providers to be licensed in Hawaii if they are doing business in Hawaii.
Valerie has spoken on local and national venues about COPD and lung health advocacy. She has been on the Board of the US COPD Coalition since 2012 and a consumer advocate of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs since 2014. She was a special education hearing officer and an attorney in private practice, as well as a graduate of University of California at Davis Law School. She has a bachelor of arts with honors in Sociology from University of Oregon. She is licensed to practice law in both California and Hawaii.
Karen Deitemeyer - Secretary
Karen Deitemeyer is retired and lives in Florida. A former heavy smoker, she was officially diagnosed with COPD in 2001 but continued working for another 7 years before retiring, partially due to her COPD. Since retirement she has become involved with many organizations which emphasize education and support for the community of COPD patients and caregivers along with advocacy and awareness of COPD as a major health issue.
Karen is a State Advocacy Captain for the COPD Foundation; is a member of the Governing Board of the COPD PPRN (Patient Powered Research Network); participated in the 1st Annual State of Florida COPD Summit; and in various COPD/Alpha-1 Community Workshops throughout Florida; in National COPD Conferences; in Lobby Days at both State and Federal levels; and was the patient “face” for the DRIVE4COPD Campaign. She is on the advisory team for a new initiative, “Breathe Strong Florida”, and was a patient participant at the NIH’s COPD Town Hall Meeting to help formulate a National COPD Action Plan. She serves on local American Lung Association committees, has spoken to student RT’s, to ALA interns, was a speaker for the 2014 and 2015 ALA LungForce Expos in Orlando, and is an active member of several on-line email and Facebook support groups.
Karen also volunteers in her retirement community, enjoys spending time with family, reading, and going to the beach.
Sam Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC - Chairman
Sam Giordano retired as the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for Respiratory Care
(AARC). He is a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and has worked as a Staff Respiratory Therapist and Director of Respiratory Services at various hospitals. Giordano has been an active member of the AARC and has served on the board of directors of the Allergy & Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, as Chairman of the National Commission on Allied Health Implementation Task Force and Commissioner for the National Commission on Allied Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources & Services Administration, member of the Executive Committee of the U.S. COPD Coalition, board member of the COPD Foundation, as well as memberships and leadership positions with many other various professional associations.
Patricia Jellen, MSN, RN
Patricia Jellen, MSN, RN received her BSN from the College of New Rochelle in 1985 and her MSN from Columbia University in 1993. Pat's nursing career at the Columbia University Medical Center site of the New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH) has spanned from the bedside as a new graduate to nursing management and program development in more recent years. Over the last two-plus decades, Pat has focused her clinical and professional efforts on the development and management of the Lung Volume Reduction program at NYPH. Currently, Pat is the hospital's administrative lead at the Pulmonary Diagnostic Lab. Because of her clinical background and interest in COPD, she was the Administrative lead for the development and implementation of the Clinical pathway for COPD at NYPH.
Beyond the hospital, Pat is an active member of the ERWG committee of the COPD Foundation; NY ALA planning committee for Lung Force in NYC. She was an active member of the COPD9USA & COPD10USA planning committees. Pat has been an invited speaker at COPD9USA; NY Lung Force 2015; group leader at the NIH COPD Call to Action meeting in 2016; and COPD10 in Birmingham 2016.
John is a COPD Patient diagnosed in 2005. His career was in retail as District Manager and troubleshooter and then as a Marketing Director. He left the workforce in 2011. After engaging in an educational COPD internet film project and being asked to share his story at a pharmaceutical conference, John decided his experiences and efforts would be best spent in advocacy work for the COPD community.
In addition to serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the US COPD Coalition, John is Wisconsin Advocacy Captain for the COPD Foundation. He also serves on the Executive Board of Directors for EFFORTS (an international support group for the COPD community). He is serving on the Governing Board PCORI-sponsored Patient Powered Research Network (PPRN) for the COPD Foundation. John also sits as a Patient Reviewer for Peer Review Medical Research Programs for the Department of Defense.
His involvement in social media and interacting with other patients and caregivers led to a position of Research Associate with the Breathe Chicago Center at University of Illinois/Chicago. John is also a Co-investigator for a PCORI funded study at Johns Hopkins: Impact of a Peer Support Program Amongst COPD Patients and Their Caregivers.
Akshay Sood, MD, MPH
Akshay Sood, an occupational and environmental pulmonologist, is a tenured Professor and the founding Miners Colfax Medical Center Endowed Chair at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Sood completed his postdoctoral fellowship in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut in 1997. He is a member of the ATS Environmental, Occupation, and Population Health Assembly and served as the first assembly Web Director (2003-2005); member of the Environmental Health Policy Committee (2013-present), assembly’s International Program Committee (2011-2014), assembly’s Planning Committee (2005-2010); and an assembly mentor for junior faculty (2014- present). Over the past 10 years, he has facilitated and chaired numerous scientific sessions at the ATS International Conference. In addition, he has served the Society’s New Mexico Chapter as a member of its Board of Directors (2007-2010), President (2009), and President-elect (2006-2008). He co-chairs the Respiratory Health Cross-Sector Council in the National Occupational Research Agenda of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Dr. Sood’s research has focused on non-smoking host risk factors for obstructive lung diseases. He is known for his work in the field of obesity/adipokines and asthma in women. He helped define the protective role of Hispanic ethnicity and the risk related to inhalational wood smoke exposure for COPD in New Mexico. His study on the causal role of depression in asthma was judged as one of the most important respiratory research in May 2014 at the ATS International Conference. His recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine established that low FEV1 in early adulthood is important in the genesis of COPD. His recent research has focused on dust related obstructive lung diseases, particularly in miners. Dr. Sood has a long standing interest in the health effects of environmental and occupational exposures in lung diseases. He has received funding for K-23 and P50 grants by the NHLBI, R01 grant by the AHRQ, R13 grant by the NIEHS, UL1 grant by the NCATS, Pipeline to Proposal I to III grants by PCORI and various HRSA-funded grants.
While serving on the U.S. COPD Coalition Board of Directors, Dr. Sood will work to enhance the understanding of the role of non-smoking exposures in COPD, and to strengthen the Coalition’s international linkages by emphasizing the global impact of occupational and environmental exposures in COPD.
Barbara Yawn, MD, MSc
Barbara Yawn is a family physician and researcher with extensive experience with obstructive lung disease research and practice. She has been a member of the USCC Board of Directors for several years and co-chair for 4 years in the past. Dr. Yawn represents primary care, an important group to bring into a more active role in COPD screening, evaluation and management. She also sits on the COPD Foundation Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee, and in 2017 she became the Chief Science Officer for the COPD Foundation.
Albert Rizzo, MD
Albert Rizzo is Chief of the Section of Pulmonary Medicine at the Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Delaware and a member of Christiana Care Pulmonary Associates. He is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Medical School in Philadelphia.
Dr. Rizzo is a member of the American Thoracic Society, a Fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians and the American College of Physicians and a Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. Dr. Rizzo deals with patients with COPD on a regular basis and is a strong advocate for pulmonary rehabilitation. He has served as the Principal Investigator for over 30 clinical trials in the fields of asthma, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia and sleep apnea. He is also directly involved with maintaining the American Lung Association’s Better Breathers Club.
Michael Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT
Mike Hess is a respiratory therapist and is currently the Chronic Lung Disease Coordinator at Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. After receiving his initial clinical training through Kalamazoo Valley Community College, he completed a bachelor's degree through Western Michigan University's College of Health and Human Services, and August 2019 Mike completed his Master of Public Health degree through that institution. He has focused on treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for the last several years, and received a Young Investigator Award from the COPD Foundation in 2015 for research in this area.