I'm Aware That I'm Rare: Kevin Paskawych


Kevin Paskawych is a pulmonary hypertension patient and car racing enthusiast from Ohio. In this episode, he discusses his dream to drive PH Awareness (pun intended) through his PHenomenal Motorsports iRacing Team and by taking awareness from the digital realm into the real world at Indy, Daytona and beyond.

Transcript:

My name is Kevin Paskawych, I live in Marietta, Ohio. My connection to pulmonary hypertension is because I’m a patient. I was diagnosed, it’ll be six years ago this coming August. I realized once I was diagnosed that I could help people. I realized that this was community that might be able to use some of my services and my ideas, and I wanted to get involved, and it’s what I’ve been doing.

The warning signs were there for actually three to four years before I was diagnosed but I didn’t take care of myself. I noticed I was getting out of breath quicker, I noticed I was having heart palpitations, things like that, but I assumed as I drawing close to 30 and not taking care of my body that, that’s what it was. Then I was on a business trip to California, we were up in the Sierra mountains near Tahoe, we were up on top of a mountain skiing. I realized I was feeling very weird and I’d been feeling very weird since I’d gone to altitude, and I collapsed.

They don’t know if it was a heart attack, or if my heart just stopped, or what it was, but going down the side of this mountain on skis I collapsed. I don’t remember any of the encounter. Something that I hit on the way down, I did impact something they’re not sure what, hard enough that I broke a couple of ribs. The doctors actually think that it may have shocked my heart back into a rhythm. After they stabilized me I was able to fly home, back to Ohio, and that began about a seventh month journey through six different doctors I believe before I was diagnosed.

I’ve always been involved in charity work, I’ve always been really involved in community work. When they gave me that list of restrictions that I’m sure every PH patient knows about, when they laid out the things that I could do, or couldn’t do, or should do, or shouldn’t do, it was kind of where my mind went automatically. I instantly talked to a local patient, her name was Teresa Hayes, and she was amazing in the early days of my diagnosis in helping me. She said, “What do you like to do? What can you do still that will help you feel better?”

I said, “Well, I’ve always done community work, I’ve always done this.” She said, “Well, we have a incredible community of people and we can always use the help.” As soon as she said that I knew it, and I said, “Alright, I want to dedicate myself in some way to helping folks that need it.” I didn’t think of it in terms of myself, although I know that it is because raising awareness is raising research funds and all that goes to patients, not just future patients but current patients. It was something I knew I wanted to do.

I’ve always been involved in racing in some way, I grew up, my dad taking me to the races on Friday nights, and I grew up watching NASCAR, and I grew up in kind of a racing family. I raced go-karts, and I’d raced dirt cars, and things like that. I got involved, it was one of those things that PH brought about. I’d never had much interest in Sim racing, is what they call it, it’s online iRacing is the name of the program specifically, and it’s actually a test bed that a lot of teams and drivers use to test their cars. To test set-ups in a virtual environment so they’re not spending tens of thousands of dollars on track time and equipment.

It’s regular everyday Joe’s, it can be professional drivers, it can be professional gamers, using it to race each other. It’s incredibly real, recreations of real life tracks, real life cars, done as a simulator not as a game. I got into that because it filled that competitive itch that I had. Of course, I’m not risking myself actually going 180 miles an hour around Daytona, but I’m doing it with a bunch of friends and fellow competitors. It fills that niche. From the earliest days I got involved actually, I said, “I want to put the PH ribbon on my cars.” I had two very good friends, Tony Trepasso and Sam Bennett, who gave me specialized paint jobs for my cars that had the PH ribbon them.

Last year for awareness month I said, “I want to do a PH car.” Between the two of them they went to town and I got zebra striped cars and I got purple flame cars, and all these for a different series I run. Some of them are actually broadcast, you can watch them on YouTube, and iRacing Live, and other services. Well, then we created at team. We said, “Alright, well, we’re all going to put phaware on our cars. We’re all going to put other charities that are close to your hearts on these cars and we’re going to go out, we’re going to race for awareness.”

That has actually spiraled and in a really good way, to the point now where we’ve had some real life racers that have signed on to help us both in the digital realm and a little bit in the real world realm. I have to mention actually, in this case, Ronnie Osmer, who’s a very good friend and one of our drivers. Who’s a real world racer, who’s an ARCA driver. He’s one of those guys who started in the digital realm and taking it to the real world realm, and we’re incredibly proud about that. We love that we’ve had a chance to meet these guys who are helping us spread awareness in an online simulator, which has tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of users.

Now it’s taking a step further, and it’s starting to be where we have guys that are going out and sticking phaware stickers on their real life race cars, and their real life racing go-karts, and dirt cars, and that’s incredibly exciting to me.

I think a community is as unique as the people that make it up. PH by its very nature doesn’t discriminate and we have politicians, we have artists, we have administrators. People from all walks of life that unfortunately end up with this disease. There are so many different people that say, “Hey, I can help. I have this great idea and it’s something that no one else has ever thought of before.”

We have artists who have written songs and produced songs about this. We have artists that have painted and made art about this. We have theater pieces that have been written about this, and it’s all because of the unique people that make up this community, who said, “I wanted to help. This is how I can help,” and it’s what they’re doing. I’d like to, honestly, one day figure out a way to get #phaware on the side of a race car that people are watching at Indianapolis, or at Daytona, that’s running for a win. Just because I know it’s helped out with other diseases, that level of exposure has helped.

For me that’s where I’d like to see it one day. I know we have drivers such as Ronnie. Tyler Graff is another one who’s been helpful to our cause in the real world in professional carting. I’d love to see, one day, the logo on the side of their cars, or on somebody else’s. We have crew members from different organizations, we have Brandan Graham who’s part of an IndyCar organization, who’s one of our drivers and one of our friends.

Seeing them take that torch and move it a little bit forward, I think, is where it’ll lead one day, and I’d like to see that. I know what that does to me as a fan, and I know what it will do to people who are fans and patients as well, to know that someone’s watching and it’s on this stage now. That hundreds of thousands, or millions of fans are seeing the same thing they’re seeing in real time. That’s where I think I’d like to see it. I don’t know if it’ll be this year, I don’t know if it’ll be next year, I don’t know if it’ll be in 10 years, but where I’d like to see it go.

I’m Kevin Paskawych and I’m aware that I’m rare.

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