Margery Eriksson of Berkeley, California won’t let Alpha-1 lung disease stop her from doing what she loves most – singing. The retired elementary school teacher has been singing for the past 21 years with the Oakland Symphony Chorus. The chorus rehearses classical music weekly and performs several times a year for an audience of 3,000 at the Oakland Paramount Theatre, accompanied by the Oakland East Bay Symphony.
The chorus of about 100 volunteers, regarded for more than 50 years as one of the East Bay’s finest, also provides educational workshops that raise appreciation and understanding of choral music. The Oakland East Bay Symphony has also received national recognition for its “unique convergence of artistic excellence and community service.”
Eriksson was diagnosed in 2006 when she began to have trouble climbing up the steep streets of Berkeley, the city just north of Oakland that is the site of the University of California-Berkeley. “I was totally shocked and upset by the Alpha-1 diagnosis,” she says. “I am a vegetarian and was always very healthy – I didn’t even like to take aspirin.”
The chorus manager, the conductor of the choir and about 20 of her fellow singers know about her diagnosis, says Eriksson, who also serves on the board of directors for the symphony chorus.
She hopes other Alphas will consider regular singing, too, since it helps with diaphragm strength and breath control. She concedes it isn’t always easy.
“Breathing is most challenging – some passages are very long and I have to take ‘catch breaths’ to make it through the phrase. Occasionally, I have a lot of phlegm and have to cough. I always have a water bottle with me. And many lozenges, unwrapped, just in case.”
She also sings with Tosca, a 16-person a capella (singing unaccompanied by instruments) ensemble that performs close harmony at special events.
Eriksson is busy in many other ways, too. Gardening, traveling, walking her dogs, and volunteering are among her favorite things. She volunteers with three organizations, including Therapy Pets: “Jasper, a 13-year-old Sheltie, and I visit rest homes, schools, and libraries – the last two places as part of the ‘Paws to Read’ program.”
Eriksson is a ZZ and receives weekly infusions. “I really think new alphas need to know that infusion works – I put it off for two years because I didn’t believe the hype. Losing more lung function and/or having to go on oxygen were big motivators for me to start infusions.”
She lives with her husband, James. Her son Tony, 47, lives nearby in the East Bay hills. Their youngest son Andrew died in 2007 at the age of 39 from cirrhosis of the liver. Neither of her sons was tested for Alpha-1. Margery now encourages all of her family members to get free, confidential testing through the Alpha-1 Foundation’s ACT Study.