Selfless acts at heart of family’s efforts in loss of loved one

By Paul Archipley | Jan 08, 2014
Photo by: Paul Archipley Laura Shanks gets in a little workout as she prepares to participate in the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb on Jan. 25 in honor of her late mother, Tammi.

As anybody who has lost a loved one knows, the healing process can be long – and never really complete.

Laura Shanks is going through that process after losing her mother, Tammi, who died in 2008 of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a rare lung disease.

In a manner her mother would like, Laura, her family and friends are honoring Tammi Shank’s memory through helping others.

Four years ago, the family established a scholarship – the Tammi O’Brien Shanks Memorial Nursing Scholarship – that is awarded annually to a nursing student at Shorecrest Community College.

This year, Laura Shanks decided she needed to do more. Enlisting family and friends to participate, she signed up for the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb 2014 (See sidebar).

About two dozen have agreed to join her team in the annual ALA fundraiser, this year a climb up 40 flights of stairs in Seattle’s Rainier Tower.

The fact it’s taking place in Rainier Tower has a nice symbolic twist; Tammi Shanks worked there several years for law firms before deciding she wanted a more satisfying profession, one where she could help people more directly.

Her husband, Joe Shanks, said his wife became a surgical nurse, working 12 years at Northwest Hospital. “It was her dream job,” he said.

When she was diagnosed in 2000 with IPF, she was given 3 to 5 years. But she continued working for the next eight years, up until the last few months of her life when breathing became too difficult.

She died at 46 on Nov. 30, 2008, second in line for a lung transplant.

Laura, now 25, was in college at the time. Today she works for Red Dog Interactive, a marketing/consulting firm in Bellevue.

“I’m real proud of her being able to graduate from college,” her father said. “She hasn’t been able to deal with this; it’s nice she’s stepping up.”

Laura said she sees the ALA climb as an opportunity to work on her own healing while raising awareness of IPF, the scholarship, and the need for organ donors.

She plans on hiking the full 40 flights; she said her brother Joey planned to climb the tower four times.

Laura said the climb could be the first of several events she organizes in the coming years.

“I can start something each year, perhaps a 5K,” she said. “I want to see what we can do together.

“People are more inclined to do something if they are there, even if it’s just a walk around Green Lake.”

Thinking about others is in the Shanks family’s DNA. Tammi Shanks kept a journal during the course of her illness, and her concern for others is revealed in her own words.

In one entry she wrote, “I remember in my early nursing days, writing in patient’s charts, ‘SOB on exertion”… I never fully understood the impact of ‘shortness of breath’ on the life that they were living.

“I am hopeful that I will be able to return to work as a registered nurse, and I feel that having lived my journey will make me a much more sensitive caretaker and I fully understand what it means to be ‘SOB on exertion.’”

“Her thoughts were always for others,” Laura said. “Selfless.”

Growing up in Woodway on 112th Place West – the “Brady Bunch street,” she said – Laura was raised in a family of faith and love.

She and her family hope their efforts will encourage others to look outside themselves, from donating to worthwhile causes to signing up as organ donors.

Joe Shanks said some 100,000 people are on donor waiting lists at any one time.

Not surprisingly, Tammi Shanks was herself a donor; she gave her corneas.


To learn more about the Tammi Shanks scholarship fund or to donate, go to

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