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Dedicated to Helping Others Breathe Easy

1 August 2014 at 1:42 pm
Staff Reporter
Passionate about advocating for the “forgotten disease group”, Lung Foundation Australia Chief Executive Officer Heather Allan is committed to ensuring lung health awareness is on people’s radar. Allan is this week’s Changemaker.

Staff Reporter | 1 August 2014 at 1:42 pm


Dedicated to Helping Others Breathe Easy
1 August 2014 at 1:42 pm

Passionate about advocating for the “forgotten disease group”, Lung Foundation Australia Chief Executive Officer Heather Allan is committed to ensuring lung health awareness is on people’s radar. Allan is this week’s Changemaker.

Allan was recently appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Lung Foundation Australia after holding the position of Director of Marketing and Health Strategy.

Prior to that she was the Director of the COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) National Program at the Lung Foundation for eight years.

Her background includes seven years working in various roles in the New Zealand public health sector.

She also has run her own consulting business in New Zealand was the Executive Director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong – the largest Chamber of Commerce outside of Canada itself.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

One of the biggest projects we are currently developing is a new campaign, which will launch in November.

I can’t say too much or give away too many secrets, but this new campaign will shift the focus from a message about lung disease to one focused on how precious lung health is. This will be a campaign we hope that will engage with people on an emotional level.

Another important project in development is our Young Lungs program – a new program which will provide support to parents of children with a chronic lung disease. These parents have a unique set of needs and often feel very alone. We want to be there for them and put them in touch with other parents caring for a child with a lung disease.

Lungs in Action is another program we are pretty excited about. It is a specialised exercise program in the community for people who have a lung disease and experience chronic breathlessness.

Lungs in Action gets these patients exercising together in a safe and supportive environment. People with lung disease often feel quite isolated and the Lungs in Action class may be their only weekly outing.

This class can often be the difference between being incapacitated to being able to get back to things that make life worthwhile – playing with grandchildren, playing golf, or even being able to do grocery shopping unaided.

There are currently over 70 programs running nationally by exercise professionals and we are working with local councils and communities to continue to introduce these classes throughout Australia.

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?

Essentially, my whole career! My very first job was in the arts with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

I then ran the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong-Kong for four years. I also worked in the public health sector in New Zealand prior to starting at Lung Foundation Australia in 2005, initially as the Director of the COPD National Program before becoming the Director of Marketing and Health Strategy and now CEO.

What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?

My first job was at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Every day I got to go into my office, past the dinosaurs and past the Chinese Ming Tomb to my desk which was by the entomology department. This is where I ate my first bug!

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

I think the most rewarding part of my job is to know that we are making a difference in people’s lives.

People with lung disease are the forgotten disease group and I am very passionate about advocating for this group so that they receive the same level of care that someone with heart disease would get.  We need to remember that nobody deserves lung disease.

What has been the most challenging part of your work?

I think the most challenging part of my work is trying to ensure lung health awareness is on people’s radar. We want people to consider their lung health to be as important as their breast or heart health.

Community donations, government and research funding tends to skew heavily away from lung disease even though lung disease carries one of the biggest burdens to the system. This needs to change.

What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

The best thing about the Lung Foundation is that we are a small and young organisation. We have just over 20 employees and work closely with hundreds of community and health professional volunteers.

Despite our size, we deliver programs right across the country supporting those with COPD, lung cancer, bronchiectasis, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and a range of rarer lung diseases as well as families, carers and health professionals.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am actually reading The Breathing Book by Bradley Tompson at the moment. This has reminded me that even those with “healthy lungs” can develop lazy and bad breathing habits. This means we aren’t getting the full benefit of that important action which gets oxygen deep into our lungs and then through the bloodstream to our vital organs.

What (or who) inspires you?

There are several people that inspire me, but one person in particular is one of our patients who at the age of 57, was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

He was having difficulty pulling his shirt over his head. His COPD was so severe that he was put on the lung transplant list.  However, before he could have his lung transplant, he was advised to improve his fitness through a program called pulmonary rehabilitation.

The pulmonary rehabilitation made such a significant difference to his (and many others’) fitness and quality of life that he was taken off the transplant list. He even went back to working full time and was able to do the things he loved like mowing the lawn and going for walks.

He is now an advocate for people with lung disease and giving back to the community. This is just one example of the hundreds of thousands of people out there living with lung disease and taking the critical steps to manage their condition.

He had the courage and motivation to go to pulmonary rehabilitation and improve his overall wellbeing which is truly inspirational. He now speaks out to encourage others to do the same.

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