Many baseball fans consider four-time World Series champion and New York Yankees legend Bernie Williams to be a superhero. For Bernie Williams, however, his "Superman" was his father, Bernabé, who died in 2001 of a rare and serious lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
“When my family learned he [Bernabé] had IPF, we were in shock, because he was our Superman. He could do everything, he was a handyman, and he lifted weights,” Williams told Fox News. “You know, he was so active and to have this diagnosis thrown on him, just stopping in his tracks was heartbreaking. He fought a great fight but ultimately the disease got the best of him.”
Williams watched as his father battled the symptoms for years and was repeatedly misdiagnosed, and said he does not want that to happen to anybody else. That’s why he’s making it his mission to raise awareness for IPF with Boehringer Ingelheim’s Breathless Campaign.
IPF causes permanent scarring of the lungs and difficulty breathing and as many as 132,000 Americans are affected by the disease each year. Additionally, IPF leads to approximately 40,000 deaths annually, which is about as many deaths per year as breast cancer.
Williams said that he hopes his advocacy can make the disease more visible so that people with the symptoms can ask their doctors about it, and not be brushed off with a cold or flu diagnosis.
“I want people to have the opportunity go to their doctor so they could be referred to their pulmonologist so they can make that determination and get it out of the way,” Williams said. “Just to even rule IPF out of the picture, because you really don't want this disease in your life.”
Unfortunately, like Bernabé, most people with IPF live only three to five years after their diagnosis. Currently, there is no cure for IPF, but there are treatments available, so the earlier a person living with IPF is diagnosed, the better. While Williams once used his "superpowers" to win four World Series, now he’s using them to educate and empower those who think they or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of IPF.
“I know my dad is looking down at me and saying, ‘Yeah, that's what you’re supposed to be doing,’” Williams said. “So, I’m gladly getting the word out, and it takes me back to the times that I was dealing with my dad. It’s such a rewarding thing for me.”
Emily DeCiccio is a producer for Fox News Digital Originals. Follower her on Twitter @EmilyDeCiccio.