Searching for a way to breathe easier

St. Thomas the Apostle student moved peers to support research


Inspired by her grandmother, who herself was the impetus behind the creation of a foundation, Kiera Harding, a fourth grade student at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead, motivated her peers to donate money for medical research.

Sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at the school listened to a presentation about lung disease and healthy living, providing a fundamental basis for why research in this arena is so vital by Dr. Steve Salzman, chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, in the school’s auditorium on March 2.

After the Salzman spoke, students took part in a healthy walking activity and the next day, children who donated $1 or more were able to wear casual clothes instead of their school uniform. The money benefited idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) research — the very core of the mission of the Mother Mary Breathe Easy Foundation Foundation. IPF is a chronic disease characterized by a progressive decline in lung function with no known cure.

“If children are going to give to a cause, I think it’s important that they understand why they are giving,” Salzman said. “I was pleased to have the opportunity to join with the Mother Mary Breathe Easy Foundation to provide education to the students about lung disease and why the research that Winthrop Hospital is conducting is so important for future

Harding’s grandmother, West Hempstead resident Mary Rockensies, is a patient of Winthrop and the inspiration behind establishing the foundation. An avid walker who did not engage in smoking or other behaviors related to the development of IPF, Rockensies and her family were extremely surprised when they learned that the lingering dry cough from which she suffered was a symptom of the condition. Rockensies, who relies on the assistance of 24/7 oxygen therapy (which she refers to as “Rosie”), along with her family, is committed to raising awareness and funds for research for the disease.

Rockensies, who attended Salzman’s presentation, along with her daughter, Maryann, Kiera’s mom, smiled as she looked on to faces of all of the children who were present that day, grateful for their attendance and participation.

“I don’t want anyone to ever have to have a ‘Rosie,’” she said. “We are doing this to make sure future patients don’t need to.”

Last September, the foundation presented Winthrop with a check for $50,000 for IPF research that is studying exhaled breath condensate to look for fragments of micro DNA to possibly uncover a pattern among IPF patients to better identify the best therapies to treat them.

The Mother Mary Breathe Easy Foundation is hosting its second annual fundraiser on July 14, at the Coral House in Baldwin. Proceeds will benefit IPF research at Winthrop. For more information about the event, visit the Mother Mary Breathe Easy Foundation’s Facebook page, For more information about pulmonary care at Winthrop visit or call 1-866-WINTHROP.