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Naperville man to climb 94 stories in honor of lung health

Steve Kovar of Naperville lost his father to an unexpected heart attack heart attack in 1997. For 10 years, there was a void in his life, but when he met Jerry Liberty, it was filled.

The father of his business partner Kristine Liberty became a role model and sounding board for pair. From giving them legal advice to setting up the computer system at the new Kids First Pediatrics in Plainfield, the former Chicago homicide detective seemed to know it all. So when Jerry was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in November of 2010, Steve was devastated by the thought that he might again lose a “father.”

Like many people, the symptoms of Jerry’s lung cancer didn’t show until it was in the late stages. When Kristine heard her dad’s heavy cough, she paged his primary doctor about her concerns. After several months of testing, it was revealed that he had stage IV cancer in the right lung. The diagnosis came as a shock to him and his family because he’d quit smoking more than 30 years ago and never worked in dangerous environments. It was especially unnerving to Steve because, as a doctor, he knew how hard the next few months of chemotherapy treatments would be.

“Cancer doesn’t just hurt the person who has it; it hurts the whole family,” Steve said. “It puts everyone’s life on hold.”

Steve admires Jerry for maintaining a positive attitude through his treatments and surgery to remove part of his lung. Always a straight shooter, Jerry is the first to say “cancer sucks,” but he’s not going to let it keep him from fulfilling his role as a father.

“He could get down about it, but instead he chooses to take each day as it comes,” Steve said. “He’s still willing to listen and be there for all the people in his life.”

Steve wanted a way to honor Jerry for his resilience. Since he’s a fitness buff, he signed up for Hustle Up the Hancock, a 94-stair climb hosted by Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Now in its 15th year, the event raises more than $1 million annually to support local lung disease research, advocacy and education.

“I’ve done marathons for my health before, but I wanted to do this for Jerry,” Steve said. “If I can raise five, 10 or 20 dollars and that’s the difference between doing research or not, it’s worth a lot. If climbing could give Jerry the chance to get a new chemo drug to give him and his family more time, how could I not do this?”

Steve will participate in the fundraiser February 26 with more than 4,000 other climbers. He said he’s excited to complete this for Jerry and everyone else affected by lung disease.

“This is about living life and experiencing something,” Steve said. “This is to help a kid with asthma, help someone quit smoking or help someone learn the signs and symptoms of lung cancer. That’s why I’m doing this climb.”

To learn more or register for Hustle, visit www.lungchicago.org/hustle. To support Steve in his fundraising efforts or to offer words of encouragement, visit www.lungchicago.org/stevekovar.

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